Media Convergence: the Good, the Great and the Comical

When trying to decide on a topic for my final post and in fact my last ever piece of university assessment (well, of my undergraduate degree), it felt only fitting that I would reflect on something that has prominently featured in nearly every unit in every semester over the past five years – media convergence.

Hartley1 describes convergence as:

“The integration of telephony, computing and media technologies, and the integration of the businesses, markets and the social interactions associated with them.”

Media convergence has given us the best and worst of creations that have either added to or distracted us from our lives (or for university students, another means in which to procrastinate). Most recently comic books came to social media in the form of Facebook’s newest smartphone app, Bitstrips.

Beth - Bitstrip

For those who’ve made it to 2013 with no social media presence whatsoever, Bitstrips are essentially comic strips that you can create through your Facebook account on any aspect of your life. This past week my newsfeed has been inundated with comic strips of my “friends” who have taken online personal information sharing to a whole new level. I’ve been given an insight into someone’s domestic life with her new husband while another was tagged in some hilarious, yet disturbing Bitstrips that had been created by a friend. While many are thoroughly enjoying this new app, I’m going to place it in the “not for me” column (with the exception of that one image).

Over the past decade, we’ve seen some media convergences that have led the way in technological advancement, inspiring many to challenge their competitors in an all out tech war. These are just some of my personal favourites:

iPods (Music + Portable Technology)
This year, many have questioned Apple’s innovative future with Samsung and Google beating the tech tycoon in releasing both a smart watch (Samsung) and glasses (Google). But before all of this was even imaginable, our favourite fruit themed company brought us the iPod.

Everyone remembers when they got their first iPod. For me, I received a first generation 1GB iPod shuffle for my thirteenth birthday. While there were similar products already available (remember the Zune?) the main draw to the iPod was that it had more space and brought everyone’s music collections, no matter how big or small, to their pocket.

In the twelve years since the very first iPod, we’ve seen them change shape, size and colour; shrink and then expand again (iPod mini), go from a stand alone to a clip on (iPod shuffle) and this year saw the end of the much loved scroll/click wheel (RIP iPod classic) in favour of touch technology. At one point Apple even tried passing them off as a fashion accessory.

But sadly Apple fans were left disappointed with the absence of any new or updated iPod from this years October media event. I guess we’ll just have to have our fingers crossed for 2014.

Gifs (Image + Film)
Gifs (Graphics Interchange Format), whether you pronounce them with a ‘g’ or a ‘j’, have added to online social media websites (most notably Tumblr) and the way in which some communicate. Many Facebook status comments no longer feature intricate and (somewhat) intellectual debates; rather the entire argument can be encapsulated in a series of gif hyperlinks.

Nearly any form of video content can be turned into a gif – an episode of a television show, a movie or a Youtube video. It’s as if a part of the Harry Potter world integrated its way into our lives. Gifs are nothing new however; they’ve been around since the late 1980s. Thankfully the quality has definitely improved.

Online streaming services (Internet + TV/Films + Mobile Technology)
And last but most certainly not least is online streaming services. Whether through legal or not-so-legal means, no one can debate the positive effects that online streaming services have brought to our lives.

No longer are we a slave to media giants telling us when we can watch our favourite television show; now we can watch them on our own terms. If we were so inclined, we could watch an episode of Homeland at 2am on a Thursday morning and on any number of devices – computer, tablet, phone or through the TV.

These services are a godsend for many television show fanatics whose favourite shows are delayed or not even shown in their countries (one downfall of living in Australia) and who cannot afford the services of cable companies such as Foxtel. Gone are the days of having to wait months for a new show to air on Australian TV, now a mere few hours stands between us and potentially something wonderful. But even a few hours seem too long.

I don’t know whether it’s the nostalgia of my last piece of university assessment and my time at QUT drawing to a close, or the nature of this blog, but I thought this was the best way for it to end:

1Hartley, John. 2005. Communication, Cultural and Media Studies: The Key Concepts. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge.

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