evolving ecological media culture(s)

Week 2: Media convergence


This week’s readings provide an overview of the many kinds of “media convergence” occurring with new/emergent/digital media. The Jenkins and Boler articles will be required reading; the latter begins our process of thinking about the political uses of new media, which we’ll focus on more next week.

(Note to non-UVM blog readers: Both the Jenkins and Boler chapters are freely available online; just do a pdf search for them. The Jenkins piece is also readable here.)

1) David Bell, “On the net: Navigating the World Wide Web,” from Creeber and Martin, ed., Digital Cultures: Understanding New Media (Open University Press, 2009). Optional.

This is an optional reading that provides some handy reference points for those with little or no background in media studies. Bell provides helpful definitions of the Internet, the World Wide Web, cyberspace and cyberculture, and media convergence (a central term for us this week; see p. 35-6), a useful historical overview of the growth of online social networking, and an intriguing (if brief) portrayal of how new media spaces interact with real physical spaces and in the process “recreate urban spaces as multi-user environments” (p. 37).

2) Henry Jenkins, “Introduction: ‘Worship at the altar of convergence’,” Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York University Press, 2006). Required.

Jenkins is a leading scholar of “audience studies” and media uses, and director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program. This article provides an overview of some of the ways in which media are converging, both technologically and culturally. Media convergence, as Jenkins describes it, is both a top-down and a bottom-up process. It involves the media industries, with corporations competing – and often “converging” and consolidating – to control an increasingly vast and powerful global market; but it also involves consumers and users making decisions to suit their own needs, which in turn affect the outcomes of social, political, and technological processes. Since the book was published in 2006, convergence has proceeded in more or less the haphazard way Jenkins predicted it will.

3)        Megan Boler, “Introduction,” in Boler, ed., Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times (MIT Press, 2008). Required: read pp. 1-29, and 37-42 (Glossary).

This is the first in a series of readings that looks at the relationship between new media and political democracy. Boler introduces a number of ways in which activists have used media in recent years. We will be looking at most of these in coming weeks. (See her typology, on p. 28, and the Glossary beginning on p. 37, which consists of quotes from authors and activists from the remainder of the book.) The first few sections of this reading can provide the focus for our discussions in class and online.

Other tasks for this week:

  • You are required to submit at least one substantive comment on the course blog this week. Weekly comments should normally be at least 150 words (in total) per student (though alternative formats can occasionally be posted; feel free to be creative). Add your comments to the blog discussion on the readings, which will be kicked off by Max (below). (The kick-off comments should be longer, @ 350 words or more.)
  • Look for online (or other) items that depict some of the things Jenkins and Boler are describing. (Links can be added to the blog discussion.) Those two readings will be the focus of our in-class discussion, so any “found objects” that are relevant will be helpful for that discussion.
  • Our readings next week will be longer than this week’s. I’ll get them up soon — please feel free to read ahead. Next week’s topic continues this week’s concern with media, democracy, and political activism. As you read on these topics, think of the examples and case studies in these readings as the kinds of things you might want to analyze in your critical media analysis assignment.
  • A few of you joined the class late; please catch up on any readings that you may have missed so far, so that you are all caught up by Tuesday.

A final observation: Note how often MIT keeps coming up in this class: Boler’s book was published by MIT Press, Jenkins – like Noam Chomsky – is a long-time employee of MIT, and MIT was the institution that took issue with Aaron Swartz’s theft of their JSTOR files. Keep your eye out for other institutions that keep recurring in our readings.


  1. Discussion Topic:

    How has the era of “convergence” and “public participation” helped transform political and social action in the modern age?

    “Convergence represents a cultural shift as consumers are encouraged to seek out new information and make connections among dispersed media content.” While, “Participatory culture” encourages people to respond to the media they consume and thus create more content. This can be a powerful agent of information, however it is clear that corporations, with their ever deepening pockets, still have much more power than any individual or even group.

    How do Boler’s examples relate to the theme of convergence and public participation?

    • Considering that Jenkins says, “Convergence does not occur through media appliances, however sophisticated they may become. Convergence occurs with in the brains of individual consumers…Each of us constructs our own personal mythology from bits and fragments of information extracted from the media flow,”
      it seems that convergence isn’t something we mold ourselves to, but rather that we mould ourselves from. This becomes especially interesting in a culture of participation. If users of media are shaping their beliefs according to what they gather from various media, but are at the same time contributing to the content of that media, then they are really helping to shape themselves. In terms of social action, this seems liberating, but also seems worrisome, as this would allow you to develop worldviews based on what you wanted to see and hear, which is just as bad as being a passive audience member.

    • Convergence implies to me the tension between the corporate driven world and the grassroots world. Online both of these communities are battling for audiences but perhaps what is most interesting is that with Web 2.0 the grassroots is no longer competing for audiences. Activists and corporations are now solely competing for audiences and people power. Many scholars have suggested that the internet itself and the decentralized structure were instrumental in organizing the revolutionary movements of the last two years including the Arab Spring, Los Indignados and Occupy movements throughout the US and world. Boler’s examples show of the beginnings of a loss of faith by the general public towards the main stream media structures. Increasingly, main stream media sources are being forced to livestream news and push news out on Twitter due to effective activist campaigns on these social media sites. The example of the Iraq war protests is a profound example of the lack of public journalism and public participation. Media structures in his narrative are becoming more consolidated, but there are also Indymedia structures coming from the grassroots. Protests and mobilizations are perfect examples of convergence where divergent goals are working around one another and with different aims. I believe what is important is for citizens to decide who best represents their interests and to learn from their opponents. To claim neutrality in a time of growing inequality and vast oppression is naive at best and choosing exploitation at worst.

      • If one feels that they are being looked at as an opponent and that is something they oppose, how is one strategy being supported over the other?

  2. Good questions, Max. What do you think?

    We will, of course, be spending much of the course trying to answer your first question…

    Let me throw in another set of questions:

    Is media convergence better for the corporations that are involved in it, or for the public that would use new media to build a more “participatory culture”? Could it be good for both? Or is it better for some corporations (i.e., the ones that would gain a competitive edge with it) than for others, and better for some users than for others? And, if so, is there value in building alliances with some media corporations to encourage them to do the right thing (e.g., encouraging Google to make books and information more available to everyone) rather than the wrong thing (e.g., allowing Google to collect our data so as to more effectively market and sell us goods we don’t need)?

    • I think it definitely has potential for BOTH “good” and “bad” use, for use that is unethical and an invasion of privacy, like Google collecting tons of information on us, and use that encourages information being more easily accessible and shared.

      Boler’s article points to some of the more sinister ways media can be manipulated by dominant groups (military, political parties, corporations) to suppress dissent and shape how the public views an issue. For example, many media and political groups have skewed the public rhetoric on global warming, saying that the science is not settled (when in reality, there is major scientific consensus). I think this sort of thing can be made easier through convergence culture, where information sources are so linked (by technologies and people themselves). Many corporations have already capitalized on the participatory culture, through social networking, games, clever advertising that involves consumer interaction, etc. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it seems that there is lots of opportunity for them to channel and filter the content that reaches the majority of the public.

    • With the religious deity(s) of technological advancements aside, good & bad seem to be the root of many issues involving progressions within the decision-making, cooperation, convergence, and even divergence from political conflict. To digress from the diction and its semantics that keep us from going forward, however, what can be highlighted from the snapshot of the meeting of the minds at the places where these decisions and attempted convergences are being made remains a separation of departments: academics, businessmen, consumers, producers, and to simplify, as Eric Alterman states: “actors” to be studied. So we are studying the actors as we are part of the play, metaphysically strained to form an opinion of the opinions being massively produced. Forming a thought along this pathway, convergence, its counterparts and less or more parts on a counter that its various black boxes will take up, to be good or bad, does not feel like an accurate way to form discussion. With cyberspace seems to come an ease of taking part in a reality away from the physical, but, wherever all of these companies exist, omnipresent as Jesus past, the fact is that they exist. The inevitability of working together, therefore, is a necessary reality to take into account. Their separate entities form one technological future. It would be ill-minded and disadvantageous for the public taking part and the companies providing their service to disown any aspect of the ever-changing, fast-pace life-force forming and being formed by us all. Because it’s there. So are we. Within and without each other with that Beatles song available for me to provide right here: “ “ if I wanted to. I don’t feel like it right now, however. And that is a real point as well. What the corporations desire they will perform, whether the public is informed or not. And it will affect popular consciousness that is a requirement to deal with when part of society, which, in America, is unavoidable, especially in relation to this discourse. Alas, convergence will happen on various spectrums and to avoid this reality is to pretend these technologies are not effecting individual to global society in a world wide web already acting on its own accord. There will be many curtain calls on various stages, with many grey tones of color involved in its material, but the awareness of the curtain in common all are sharing must be open to discussion, which, by nature, is convergence. Though in a world where war is the preferred discourse for problem-solving, that may be the government-funded source of conflict resolution the companies’ will gain capitol off of most popularly.

  3. I wanted to know a bit more about Mr. Fred Luntz (aka Frank Luntz it would seem) after I read about him in Boler’s article. He is highly recognized and works on language consulting for republican politicians and corporations, testing word and phrase choices on various focus groups and through interviews with the goal to get people to react based on emotions. (http://www.luntzglobal.com/) He is the founder of Luntz Global, and their slogan: It’s not what you say It’s what they hear, hints at their intentions of changing and manipulating word choices and phrasing to endorse a certain reaction from the public. He opted to change the phrase “drilling for oil” to “energy exploration” because when he showed groups of people a picture of current oil drilling and asked them if it looked like drilling or exploring, 90 percent said it looked like exploring. Therefore he said exploring, not drilling, was the right word to use for this term of communication. (http://www.treehugger.com/corporate-responsibility/gop-spinmaster-teaches-stephen-colbert-how-to-sugarcoat-oil-drilling-global-warming-video.html) I thought this was a pretty good video, speaking of needing satire to speak truth to power while simple truths are simple no more and participatory culture in media is on the rise.

  4. In my opinion, media convergence is positive for both the corporations involved in it as well as the public that would use the media. Much the same way it is not equally “good” for everyone (corporations and public alike), but benefits those individuals or groups that chose to take advantage of it to the fullest extent. Jenkins emphasizes that media convergence is more than just a shift in technology but instead alters relationships between technologies, industries, audiences, markets and genres. Also he states that media convergence is a process – as opposed to an end- and ultimately is leading to a better system. I found his point that while media is converging, technology is diverging to be extremely interesting and thought provoking.

    I find it very interesting that MIT is a constant name in this debate while still remaining an outsider of sorts and not necessarily having much to say directly to the debate.

  5. In my opinion, I feel that media convergence has great potential to be beneficial or even to be abused by major corporations and other entities of power. We are already encouraged to consume certain products or accept changing trends as the new norm that benefit companies, such as the inability to purchase a cell phone that does not include a camera, internet capabilities, etc. therefore I feel it would be naive to think these powers would not continue to do these things in whatever manner they can. I believe that power holding entities will or already are pushing trends and feeding consumers ways of comprehending news and media in manners that benefit them and maintain their grasp on their established power.
    While these methods work or would work for many people in the United States and the rest of the world, of course there will still be those who question what they are being spoon-fed. This is where I feel that the public participation in media through social media mediums and others presented by the Web 2.0 transition and offers the possibility of resistance and hesitation to simply accept all the media coming through to the consumer through all of the various pathways. If people are able to form their own opinions and perception of what they are being told or watching that differs in some way to that media then it offers the vehicle to change and gather momentum from others to petition and share knowledge not being told by major media devices. Overall I feel that these entities are most concerned with business and doing “the right thing” is not something on the top of their agenda.

  6. It seems to me that if individuals used new media as intelligently as corporations have evolved to the end result would be a functional participatory culture, which would be an argument for convergent media. The situation kind of a reminds me of an older brother forcing you to punch yourself in the face. He has a greater amount of strength than you do in the same way that a corporation is more capable at learning new media and molding it to their own personal objectives faster than you are capable of catching on to their tricks. At a certain point however we all have to realize that corporations are recognized as individuals in our country and they’re going to be entitled to those same rights even it leads to crazy marketing schemes or restrictions to information. Eventually we as individuals need to decide whether to sit around or make a change and, since we are all aware that policy changes are excruciatingly slow, the change is most likely going to have to come from us. Companies earning money from new media have the right to their economic pursuits, but it doesn’t mean new media users have to be so passive. New media, especially the Internet, introduced a whole new skill set and although majority of individuals today are capable of navigating it the skill of critical analysis of information has been overlooked by many. I think that although it doesn’t hurt to encourage corporations to act responsibly it is hard to believe a great change will come from it. The responsibility is our own.

    • Google is a great example of a company whose capabilities for good in the face of convergence has been met by fears of their capacity for exploitation, or at the very least prevention of information transfer. They have done extraordinary things in the name of spreading information, but those concerned with their personal privacy and their right to share will undoubtedly have qualms with their control of such vast amounts of data. A poignant TedTalk (http://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles.html) by Eli Pariser on “filter bubbles” illustrates how search engine specialization and search tracking may help people find the information they are most likely looking for, but at the risk of limiting their exposure to the sorts of conflicting information that may challenge their own views and ultimately refine them. When the engineers at Google decide they know what we want to watch better than we do, then convergence has taken a turn for the worse.

  7. First to answer Adrien’s question, I believe that media convergence can be good for both. But I also think that there must be a clear difference between the two. Building a participatory culture through participating personally with social media is very much different than participating through a business. While interning for a marketing department this summer, I attended a social media conference in which there was elaborate training and time spent on bettering the social media of a company. There is research and statistics involved, and a single person whose job is dedicated to using social Web as a way to make profit and/or market themselves. where as social media for personal use or commentary can be much different. Because of this, I think there is separate potential for each to do good.

    However, through Boler’s piece we see a lot of negative aspects to power and media intertwining. “This is the challenge we face: the media traffic in power and do not give many a seat at the table to voice their views at the grand scale; political and corporate powers have developed ways of making us doubt even the most basic ‘facts.'”. Boler also points out in her glossary definition of Corporate/Dominant/Mainstream Media that “we are community media, we’re owned by the community, and corporate media is owned by corporations.” She continues, “for the most part, news is being produced for profit motive.” Sometimes it is hard to believe in corporation’s doing good with media when profit is the main goal, but we should have hope that this is possible, if not in all cases, at least in some.

    To answer Max’s opener, “convergence” and “public participation” have had a great deal of help shifting the media. Hassan Ibrahim calls it “a revolution,” saying that now with such a large percentage of the world with access to cell phones, etc., absolutely anyone can be a reporter. But this of course can be quite dangerous as Ibrahim says also, “the media is more powerful than a bomb.” “If you have a credible news outlet, people believe you and what you say is gospel truth. And if you get it wrong, then the people get it wrong.” Hopefully however, this new wave of media can have take a positive spin, and have a great impact on changing the many social,political,environmental, and/or economic problems our world faces.

    • The way that Molly quoted Boler designated with me in that media is predominantly about profit. I assume that this may have always been the case with privately owned media outlets and although monopoly power or government control of the media would definitely eliminate the need to compete for profit maximization, it would also give us a very bias source of media. When reading Bolers article I couldn’t help but think of new media in the way that I think of new market agriculture. When agriculture is produced for market exchange, decreasing the supply of agriculture may be best in increasing the price one can sell for. Although when you decrease food supply, it is not always in the best interest of the hungry. New market policy that allow speculation in food commodities and essentially betting on the price of food allow corporations who would have never previously been involved in the buying or selling of food to become involved in the market game. When these hedge funds or speculative investors buy the food shares, this artificially increases the demand, decreases the supply and drastically raises the price making it so the actual food consumers in some cases can’t afford food. When you financialize food for the purpose of economic gain, not nutritional importance, the goal moves away from feeding people and towards restricting food to increase price and gain the largest return on investment. When media is financialized, the goal moves away from communicating information to the greatest number and towards attracting the greatest investments and earnings based on consumer response and politically minded investing corporations. How do you go about creating a form of national or international media that is not financially motivated and runs on the idea of the greatest good for the greatest number?
      I think another important point in Boler’s article is that with new media we have new tools. We (the general global public) are able to report what we see, as Hassan Ibrahim said, although we know “nothing about the secrets of the industry…” It depends on individual moral efforts as to what we do with this power.

  8. Convergence and public participation are having a large impact on political and social action in the modern day. Although the media major companies still hold most of the power when it comes to media, things are rapidly changing. People can now read an article, put in their opinions and others will read the same article and take in their opinion as well. As said by a few of my fellow classmates, people are being shaped by not only what they read, but shape others by what they write. The corporations are losing the hold over what people can say online because it is so easy for a computer programmer to create a simple webpage where people can write whatever they like and have people read and write on that webpage, like this blog. This is evident in other countries where the internet is a main source of underground (and often more truthful) news. As people are commenting and participating in new stories, it can be good and bad for companies. Companies that embrace participation may prosper, but may also be looked upon with mistrust because that is the spirit of grassroots culture. “Don’t trust the man, man.” The public must have some distrust, however, because often when these companies become powerful, corruption and greed turn them into media tyrants.

  9. After completing the assigned readings for the week, my thoughts turned to thinking of examples that explain what both Jenkins and Boler were discussing. Media convergence has allowed for videos, memes, gifs, and other Web 2.0 phenomenon to go viral, allowing for the masses to view and critique these phenomenon. The first example of media convergence that popped into my head that combined both political and social action was the Kony 2012 phenomomenon.
    (For Quick facts and Summary of the controversy check out Wikipedia:

    Kony 2012, was a documentary that was posted by the organization, Invisible Children, in order to spread awareness of the growing atrocities resulting from the Lord’s Resistance Army’s leader, Joseph Kony and the use of child soldiers. Within days of the video being posted, millions had viewed the film on youtube and vimeo. Facebook and other realms allowed for the video to spread like wildfire across the web. Soon after the video’s viral status, however, came intense criticism for the film’s oversimplification of events within the region and the perceived glorification of Joseph Kony. Because of media convergence, the internet community was able to identify flaws and inaccurate information that may have otherwise been accepted as the truth due to the sharing of information from the internet community. In this instance, viewers were able to “seek out new information and make connections among dispersed media content.” After viewing the video, viewers were able to read critiques of the film and come to their own conclusions about the legitimacy of the video. Kony 2012, allowed the internet community to fact check and analyze a film that may have been promoting false ideals and as a result, labeled the project as dishonest. This, is the “good” side of media convergence as it is now possible to relook at content with a the critical eyes of the masses. The “bad” side of media convergence is what allowed the video to go viral in the first place. The first viewers that shared the video sparked the curiosity of millions of others despite the fact that the video was not all it promised to be.

    Here is the original Kony 2012 video if you are interested in watching it & critiquing it yourself:

  10. It seems like the easy answer, but I think convergence is definitely good for both the average person and for corporations. The modern internet/Web 2.0 has made global public discourse easier than ever, but it’s also, as you mentioned, given Google the ability to collect data on us so they can market to us better. If Net Neutrality legislation does establish a two-tiered system for the internet, we’d be seeing the scales tip in favor of corporations in a significant way. Social media has been used in political revolutions, but now ads follow us everywhere on our smartphones. For example, twitter is a powerful and enjoyable tool, but in order for it to be profitable I have to see “sponsored” tweets promoting some new Subway sandwich at the top of my feed fairly regularly. There is capacity for both good and evil in this realm, but it can be hard to define as new media develops and changes at such a fast rate.
    Interesting observation on the note of MIT, having seen the institution and their studies featured in a TV special about technology dependence, “Digital Nation,” and in the writings of Sherry Turkle (an employee of MIT). Hadn’t considered the connection before.
    Also, did Figures 0.6 and 0.7 in Boler’s piece remind anyone else of the awesome (and fairly relevant, albeit dated) John Carpenter movie They Live? http://thewolfmancometh.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/they-live-billboards-messages-john-carpenter.jpg

  11. Web 2.0 has driven this developing era of convergence and public participation to a place where ideas can be shared and critiqued freely and without legal consequence. Political discussion is easier now that “digital proof” can be hyper-linked right into a blog post and then shared with other users. No longer is the news feeding us information but now is rather sparking a discussion that can go on a much deeper level of thought. Boler suggests that users that consume on the internet are more likely to produce their own material for others, which in a sense combines these two ideas into a simple user of the internet.
    Having faith in my generation, I believe that many of us young users of the internet see through corporate advertising and decide to shop wherever based on personal trains of thought and option weighing.

  12. In relation to the comments listed above, my personal take on the pros and cons regarding convergence were more directly linked to HOW we receive our information, and how that affects our important comments proceeding. For instance, Jenkins discussed how a film was screened via cell phones in India, giving the user a hand-held experience with the film. How does this affect our discussions of media? How does this look for the exploitation of information? Is piracy easier or harder to control depending on the medium with which the art is displayed? Also, is this considered free “information”, such as Aaron Swartz suggested? Although I am a supporter of important facts being transmitted to the public, have we considered the livelihoods at stake for those who are displaying their work as well?
    This website gives the figures on loses into 2010, including monetary figures, through film piracy. I haven’t figured my own stance on the best solution, but if we are beginning the conversation of mass-media sharing, this could be a subject for discussion…

  13. Remembered this song from a long time ago. The lyrics seem relevant to our discussions on “sensory overload,” and also display curiosity towards strong media potentially altering our moods and ultimately mental health. Pretty interesting stuff back for 1983 in the west coast punk scene. I can sense a parallel between the resistance faced back then and the angst some of us feel today with Google algorithms and such.


    song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0Be7Xryos4
    lyrics: http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/Subliminal-lyrics-Suicidal-Tendencies/FB1B0FC321F3F3FF48256C7E002CF1DD

  14. How has the era of “convergence” and “public participation” helped transform political and social action in the modern age?

  15. The rise of the digital age in “Web 2.0” has dramatically increased “public participation” in the media sphere by enabling normal, everyday global citizens a chance to seek out “realities” separate from that of media news networks. Media “convergence” has enabled people to access different types of information through a wide variety of media sectors, including Youtube, The Daily Show with John Stewart, film, etc. Because media consumers are now taking more media stewardship, the social web is now challenging mainstream news networks that are trying to silence “dissent.” People that are not high up in this political hierarchy are now able to access information from all different media outlets while simultaneously participating in the media sphere by constructing other forms of media on sites like Youtube. This participation has inherently led to a shift in political and social action because global citizens are not solely relying on news networks like Fox or NBC to construct reality for them. People are able to seek out their own truths and realities by sharing knowledge with each other on the social web. Because of “convergence” and “public participation” people are now discussing what “has been passed off as truth and what actually counts as truth.” Through sharing knowledge through “Web 2.0,” the “facts,” “scientific data,” and the “veracity” of political frontrunners is being questioned more than ever now. Because of this participation, the social landscape is changing because relying on communal global knowledge is now becoming just as or even more powerful than mainstream news outlets.

  16. I thoroughly enjoy your blog posts and I consciously put into practice your concepts as they allow us to..

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