Henry Jenkins and Mark Deuze (2008) wrote an editorial that has connected some dots for me. It’s leading like a trail of bread crumbs down a path to I don’t know where partly because of this opening statement: “We are living at a moment of profound and prolonged media transition: the old scripts by which media industries operated or consumers absorbed media content are being rewritten” (p. 5). The article Convergence Culture does a good job of describing points of interest along the way, but rightfully doesn’t make conclusions. Indeed, we are called to introspection and to rethink our roles as “knowledge workers” while we all trek down a path of discovery in this new media ecology.
The phrase “convergence culture” was coined by Jenkins and means simply where old and new media collide. More specifically, media companies can no longer be studied in exclusion to their relationship to the consumer. Conversely, the “audience,” or participatory community, can no longer be understood in isolation from the media they consume as they are part and parcel to the driving machina that creates and shapes the media environment (p. 5). The authors assert:
“Media can be seen as the key drivers and accelerators of growing integration between culture and commerce.”
Jenkins and Deuze describe in detail how a “tension” exists within the communication infrastructure between the consumer and corporate media players that appears as “pulls and tugs within our culture” (p.6). Because media is less centralized and more distributed among society via technology, this has disintegrated the tight control that media companies once had over our culture. This, in turn, places more power in the consumer’s hands. And yet this shift has forced media companies to reorganize, creating a concentration of power with traditional gatekeepers.
A new kind relationship has been formed from this tension characterized as more of a liquid process of interaction and less of the traditional top-down flow of media the world once knew. On the one hand users need the access and production these media channels provide. On the other, their will, decisions and interests, and their grassroots creations are driving the tastes of the community at a rapid, real-time pace. Indeed, when media companies attempt to control this relationship and “harness collective intelligence,” they find it is like trying to corral a wave. It can’t be done. The result is that the words like “passive media consumer” doesn’t really work because now, in this new paradigm, the audience are truly co-creators (p.7).
A phenomenon has now emerged where “Everything seems up for grabs with power, wealth, knowledge, and influence redispersed with each shift in the media landscape” (p.7). It helped me to imagine it like this: A media company creates a product—let’s call it “the blue drop”— and releases it into the clear pond of the internet. The blue disperses and ripples across the pond. The molecules combine with the blue, all of these different and varied molecules change and interact. Fans create new colors of the molecule. Groups grab on to that molecule and create a whole community around it’s uniqueness, then more products come from that. Now the original “drop” has gone through so many iterations it’s hard to see what it the original concept looked like and where it all started. Traditionally this would create copyright firestorms. But in our new mediascape (and for smart companies) this is an opportunity to manufacture new and interesting ideas to share, thus growing audience followings and loyalty for future products.
One of the best examples of this is the game Minecraft. My son became bored with the coloring and structure of the graphics as many others had. Then someone came up with game mod that turned all the colors vibrant. But the modifications didn’t stop there. A community gathered together around this idea on how to improve Minecraft graphics. The company capitalized on this (for free!) and received these great ideas and made modifications themselves. The community continued to generate ideas like changing the torches to lanterns, making the outline of the leaves visible in the cube trees, and making the sea water transparent and ripple as you moved through it. Because Minecraft doesn’t try to control its participating community and consented to creative input, it became a better, more popular company.
What’s the end result of all this intermingling? No one really knows, but what we see now is a partnership of colliding, converging, mixing, and sharing entities where meaning and innovation emerge in a beautiful mashup within a new creative economy.
Jenkins, H., & Deuze, M. (2008). Convergence culture. CONVERGENCE-LONDON-, 14(1), 5.