Convergence Culture

Communication between individuals constitutes a lot of what makes us unique. Mark Deuze explores participatory culture and media convergence in his journal Convergence Culture in the Creative Industries. Deuze states that the emergence of a media environment where we are not only consuming, but also our whole online behaviour involves participation, co-creation and collaboration to some degree. Engaging with content through social networks can be defined as citizen journalism. When commenting on a YouTube video or sharing something on Facebook, you are propelling the flow within this online ecosystem. A clip by Henry Jenkins explores convergence culture as a world where stories, sounds, brands, images and relationships plays itself out across the maximum number of media channels. For those of us born in the digital age, this technological shift is one that we can adjust to and advance with little effort required. We are so used to doing everything instantaneously, at the click of a button. One of the most significant themes of media convergence is the ability to send more information further and faster.

Technology is so intertwined with our lifestyles now that we consider traditional forms of media as being “old” and useless on some levels. Why go out and buy a newspaper when I can read it on a website? Why rent a DVD when I can stream it online? Cartoons such as South Park often reference technological convergence in a humorous way. South Park’s episode A Nightmare on Facetime (Season 16, Episode 12) mocks physical media distribution when the character Randy buys a Blockbuster video store and is certain it’s going to bring his family into wealth. ’We’re going to have customers up our ass!’ Randy is proven wrong while the store poses as a “haunted” and “creepy” place that everyone avoids. This was a clever imitation addressing the death of DVD’s and video rental stores.  While Randy’s son Stan is stuck at the Blockbuster with his family, he is still present with his friends trick-or-treating via Facetime on his iPad. The use of the iPad was quite witty – throughout the episode Stan is constantly streaming videos and chatting to his friends, which really contrasted well with the eerie feel of the DVD store. While he was physically stuck in one place, he was also using multiple media platforms and entering cyberspace. South Park really utilised the relevance of convergence culture and this idea of an online environment.

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Where is the off switch?

Technology has entirely restructured an individual’s way of working. Where we may still have a separate space for work and home, the two are now enmeshed due to the versatility of technological devices (aka casualisation). While it may be a more convenient and efficient way of working, the concept of “liquid” life via convergence of work and home now means that we are living under constant uncertain conditions.

The issue raised now is that there is difficulty maintaining a healthy home life because our lives are so intertwined with technology. Workers now feel the pressures of always being “switched on” and contactable outside of work hours. Even at university, I already have a first hand experience of this. Despite our tutors setting on campus consultation times, I noticed that more people email or tweet their concerns and questions. While this may be appropriate, encouraged (in a media and communications course) and an efficient way to interact, it still poses this idea of always being connected and therefore feeling a strain to relax during off work hours.

TIME Magazine published an article stating that in the past few years, companies such as Google have taken measures to ensure their workers have a healthier balance between work and home life. Furthermore, in January 2012, Europe’s largest automaker Volkswagen vowed to deactivate emails on German staff BlackBerries while not at work. Their devices are set to only receive emails half an hour before and after work hours. It’s good to see a company taking on board the powerful affect technology had on their workers, and finding ways to maintain equilibrium. Whilst we are only just adapting to a digital age, I hope that more boundaries are made for workers so they are able to have “off” time. In light of this, there is research to support that regular downtime prompts better productivity.

Zia plugged in

Results in a study undertaken in February 2012 suggested that because we are constantly immersed in technology, it not only becomes habitual but addictive. The research found the majority of people consider social networking platforms and emailing more difficult to resist than cigarettes and Alcohol. In the study, 205 adults were required to wear devices which recorded almost up to 8, 000 reports of their daily desires. Sleep and sex were the most dominant, however desires for media and work proved the toughest to resist.

Carolyn Marvin, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, alleges that the addiction to our devices is a result of wanting to be “a successful member of middle class society” and states that that this is achieved by “showing our dedication to professional work and being available at all hours of the day”.

 Our concurrent immersion with all forms of media prompts contemporary modifications in the economy. While the various spheres of daily activity converge, the line between work and home are increasingly blurred.

References:

Deuze, M 2006, Liquid Life, Convergence Culture, and Media Work, March 19, Indiana University

Knowledge@Wharton 2012, ‘Why Companies Should Force Employees to Unplug’,  TIME Business & Money, weblog, 16 February,  viewed 22/08/2013, <http://business.time.com/2012/02/16/should-companies-force-employees-to-unplug/