Converged Culture in the Digital Age


Our newest topic in media criticism is “convergence culture”. We have been asked to describe this term coined by Henry Jenkins, the author of, Convergence Culture,Where Old and New Media Collide. The book’s introduction starts us down the path towards understanding what convergence culture is

Welcome to convergence culture, where old and new media collide, where grassroots and corporate media intersect, where the power of the media producer and the power of the media consumer interact in unpredictable ways.

This is the heart of convergence culture – the once passive audience is now becoming an active participant in the creation of the content they view. The Internet gives consumers an instantaneous voice, a platform of opinion, and the ability to create or influence what they will consume.  This includes shows, commercials, products, news, and shopping experiences.  Comment fields and social media have powerful sway over marketing practices and media content. And this, my friends, has changed the world.

 Jenkins says that  convergence, “…is both a top-down corporate-driven process and a bottom-up consumer-driven process.”


Thanks to technology, the average citizen (with some computer skills) can also effectively create content to be shared with the world just like big companies. Think of YouTube, Fan art, blogs, personal websites, and online gaming.

Jenkins further defines the discussion of converged culture as a “relationship between three concepts –media convergence, participatory culture, and collective intelligence”

These three concepts create the phenomenon  that Jenkins has coined

“Converged Culture”

Convergence culture is being brought to you by….the Internet, digital media, and all of its various platforms.

Society has long been the passive receiver of an end product.   News media, governments, and big businesses are the traditional gate keepers that decide what the agenda will be for public dialogue. They decide what will be talked about and paid attention to in traditional media outlets – TV, newspaper,radio, and print.  In the new media world, consumers are selective, creative, demanding, and loud — everyone has a voice. The gatekeepers must pay heed! Sounds good, right? The only problem is neither the traditional producers of content nor the newly freed society know exactly how all this is going to work.Confusion-300x300

Bursting forth in a frenzy few of us clearly understood, online life blossomed into a tumultuous riot of the best and worst humans have to offer.Today, consumers comment, create, and sometimes control what’s being produced — they create virtual groups, cliques niches, and online social norms along the way. These groups represent the collective intelligence that Jenkins refers to.

Collective intelligence is shared knowledge that emerges from collaborative efforts. Individuals don’t know everything, but everyone knows something. Pooling this knowledge so that others can access it creates a collective. Modern technology makes this easier than ever. Prime online examples of collective intelligence include: Wikipedia, social media, and search engines. The ease of sharing and accessing information online has shifted our culture. Many say this is the modern version of direct versus representational democracy.

While all this may sound a bit esoteric and lofty, I can offer you an example that sums up this convergence point succinctly.


American Idol became a hit of epic proportions. In the merging of  old and new media, American Idol helped move America towards convergence culture at lightening speed. Back when it first premiered, not only did Idol capture the nation’s attention but, it catapulted texting into popularity, created gigantic online fan bases, and simultaneously bolstered traditional viewing habits of old media.  Everyone was tuning in simultaneously, but not as merely passive viewers — Live voting gave audiences the power to change the show’s outcome.

Idol unleashed the true power of product placement within the interactive entertainment platform. For Coke, AT&T, and Ford, the show was a perfect vehicle create brand recognition and loyalty. The advertisers were aware that the contest was the perfect vehicle to push products to an audience that was enthralled with the new power of participation. This is the top-down part of the equation Jenkins mentioned earlier.

Social media was abuzz with sharing, criticizing, supporting, loving, and hating the show. There was certainly a collective intelligence about this new show.  Fans posted background information on contestants and the celebrities who hosted the show.  Fans became…REALLY LOYAL fans.  Participatory culture helped create this mega-hit show.

060214_idol_hmed7p.grid-6x2Loyal consumers are advertiser’s gold

  • The most tolerant viewers for ad placement
  • Twice as likely to pay attention to and remember ads in show
  • Create loyalty through online social connections
  • Evaluate quality and use of products in online forums

But marketers now must pay attention

Investing emotionally in the shows (and the products that endorse them) is a double-edged sword. When voters felt there was inequities in counting the votes, a backlash ensued. The shows producers had to address this and make changes. When viewers had enough of ads being crammed down their throats at every opportunity, they voiced their opinions loud and clear. Viewers had a collective voice to disapprove and they learned to use it — and corporations listened. This is the bottom-up part of convergence.

Looking Ahead

Jenkins accurately portrayed the idea of culture being shaped and formed by technology while at the same time re-inventing itself in the age of hyper-connectivity. Online culture is affecting real world culture. Converged culture influences the way we bank, shop, entertain, read, communicate, socialize, meet, remember, eat, vacation, live, and die. The evolution has not been a smooth one — change seldom is. Jenkins addressed this back in 2006,saying

photo_overlayDon’t expect the uncertainties surrounding convergence to be solved anytime soon. Media producers will find their way through their current problems only by renegotiating their relationship with consumers. Audiences, empowered by these new technologies, occupying a space at the intersection between old and new media, are demanding the right to participate within the culture…..The resulting struggles and compromises will define the public culture of the future.

So we are still on the adventure of trying to come to terms with this new form of culture. There will be an ebb and flow, and  much give and take, as both sides of the equation work towards figuring it out. Wisely, Jenkins explained the development of convergence culture without making any assertions about where it will end up.  Social and cultural norms are colliding with new technology and both are being continually changed in the process.  The possibilities are endless…




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