Convergence Culture: Only The Tools Are New

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David MarlettBy David Marlett, Managing Director, enkHouse

An opening aside: I just returned from The Firebrand Community Conference, hosted by Firebrand Technologies, in stunningly beautiful Newburyport, MA. (Perhaps the ideal New England village.) This annual gathering of publishing industry experts, most of whom work in the tech aspects of the trade, is something I encourage you to attend. Great energy, intimate setting, incomparable networking, unmatched collective brainstorming. Good coffee and pastries. I learned a lot, and shared some insights into transmedia and the exploding interactive digital storytelling that is driving the future of this industry.

A special thanks to Jeanne Weinkle of Bookmobile (think POD, not bus) for inviting me; Fran Toolan (Chief Igniter of Firebrand) for the opportunity to present at the Unconference session on transmedia (along with Open Road Integrated Media and Bookmobile); and the ever-engaging Guy LeCharles Gonzalez of DBW for the invite to present at the innovative “pecha kucha” session… and yes, my presentation involved murder, adultery, trials, gambling, corruption, threesomes, Silicon Valley, pornography, racing and the birth of new media….all in 7 minutes! Told ya! You should’ve been there!

But on to the matter at hand: This week I’m turning my thoughts to “Cultural Convergence” and how it relates to transmedia, publishing, filmmaking, news media, etc. Big subject; probably need to split it up over a few columns. For this particular column I’m talking primarily about its definition… and this odd need we seem to have to define these new terms. “Analysis paralysis, anyone?” We seem to get lost in an elegant cycloid curve, though it is open-ended, we can never exit its arc.

Convergence Culture by Henry JenkinsAh well, let’s go. I like how Henry Jenkins put it, in his book: Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (NYU Press, 2006):

Convergence culture is “where grassroots and corporate media collide, where the power of the media producer and the power of the consumer interact in unpredictable ways.”

Yes. Or more simply put, as we mix media we develop a ‘culture’ that utilizes and in fact demands that type of mashed-up media. In the publishing/producing industries, media platforms and the various means of communication multiply at such a high exponential rate that most of us are left scratching our (balding?) heads, muttering, “What’s going on?”… or worse: “What just happened?

But defining things is not my bag. For example, I don’t share my friend Guy’s interest in defining “Transmedia”… in fact I find it puzzling that such a poet would concern himself thus. (Hey Guy, is the Alcaeus ‘stanza’ always dactylic by definition? Let’s discuss, shall we?) How about we simply all agree to Guy’s definition of Transmedia as: “Free Verse Storytelling”? (snap, snap, snap!)

Or my preference: “Interactive Story Jaazzz” (You have to use ‘jazz hands’ when you say it.) There, now that that’s settled…

We could do the same with Convergence and mull its meaning ad nauseum. For me, the best use of the word, and the most enlightening, is found in a sister phrase: Convergent Evolution. It is the appearance of very similar biological traits in very unrelated, evolving species.

That comes closest to what seems to be occurring here: otherwise divergent media forms are evolving to not only coalesce for the sake of the experience, but also have evolved very similar traits: interactivity, digital, surround, 3D, audience augmentation, community sharing, ultra-enhanced reality simulation. All playing to the same audience: the human, and his/her basic desire to communicate effectively to a broad base of fellow humans, and to feel the protective huddle of a connection and common experience within his/her group. This has been our ‘’need” from stone tablets to digital ones.

Sometimes evolution takes a billion years. In fact, the fastest molecular evolution ever clocked occurred across 200 Million years. (Way to go little tuatara lizard!) But man-made technological evolution is exceedingly rapid…and growing faster by the year. And in this transmedia / touch tablet / mobile / digital book world, it seems to be changing by the day. Media is converging before our eyes (and ears, and other senses), and that is causing (or the result of) a convergence of cultural elements. And a culture of convergence itself thus has arisen.

Confused yet? Don’t worry about it.

To stay on top of this evolutionary wave is a matter of understanding the effect of the convergence, the associated base human need, and perhaps most importantly, maintaining a keen awareness that this is really quite simple and nothing new. We have been and continue to be desirous of commonly conceived, collaborative, communal experiences and consistently composed cords of communication…from calligrams to cables…thus, you guessed it, the convergence culture.

No more new than it ever was, only now the media tools go beep, baw, blap and boom. A deep thought hidden on the surface, written in Runes.

Back to reality. The key to unlocking good convergence… no stems please…is, what’s the friggin’ story? Am I entertained? Do I feel connected with my community and with the greater world? Is my life enriched? Is this fun? Will I get laid? How much is this app?

For me at least, Transmedia, Convergence Culture, and the like, are big words trying to define the most base and essential experience we require for ourselves and our community: all sitting around banging the same drum. Meanwhile, as we discuss all this, these products are popping onto the market, foretelling the impending rush. Thus, our focus at enkHouse is in the doing, not the defining.

By the way, I encourage you to attend the DBW WEBcast on 10/12, Transmedia 101 for Publishers and Authors. I will be joining fellow ‘Transmediaites’ Alison Norrington, Anita Ondine and Chuck Wendig to talk about these issues, and dive into the practicalities of getting Transmedia products developed and out to audiences steeped in this Convergence Culture.

And maybe Guy will share a convergent transmedia poem with us… snap, snap, snap!

Write on,

David

David Marlett is the managing director of enkHouse, a transmedia production company based in Dallas and Los Angeles, focused on enhanced eBooks and interactive apps for the publishing, film and other entertainment industries.

Interested in learning more about using transmedia storytelling and cross-media strategies? Join us at StoryWorld, the only major gathering of industry leaders, decision makers, and transmedia specialists, to explore new business models, innovative partnerships, and fresh revenue streams.

About David Marlett

David Marlett is the managing director of enkHouse, a transmedia production company based in Dallas and Los Angeles, focused on enhanced eBooks and interactive apps for the publishing, film and other entertainment industries.

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4 thoughts on “Convergence Culture: Only The Tools Are New

  1. David: As a poet, I understand the context of any word can drastically change its meaning, which is why I’ve been grappling with defining “transmedia” from the author’s and publisher’s perspectives. Right now, the emphasis is on the technology, but as both you and I have noted, the underlying concept isn’t anything new, It’s particularly fascinating to see how its defined in other mediums, like film and gaming, and how for certain segments of publishing (comics, RPGs) it’s barely worth mentioning because it’s been integral to their business models for decades.

    Overall, good post, though. I’d say we’re about 90% on the same page, though we’re diametrically opposed on one point: finger snaps at poetry readings are pretentious!

  2. “We have been and continue to be desirous of commonly conceived, collaborative, communal experiences and consistently composed cords of communication…from calligrams to cables…thus, you guessed it, the convergence culture.”

    Magnificently, mellifluously alliterative. My God!

    Interesting article, mightily manifested.

  3. I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiment about advocating experiences over stories (though where the line between the two is drawn is probably subject to debate).

    This distinction is increasingly important as issues like piracy weigh on the value of ‘pure content.’

    Simply creating, aggregating, or providing content as a business model is proving harder as monopolies on distribution channels, technology advances, and the rise of the consumer-turned-producer behavior are stripping away a lot of the artificial economic scarcities that previously supported content industries in the analog age.

    Wrapping stories in a rich experience (e.g. a service, like iTunes, or a richer world to explore as we find in, ahem, transmedia storytelling) is an excellent way to elevate your offering in this rising sea of content.

    Here’s a post I wrote earlier this year that better describes my thoughts:

    http://thismonkeycantype.com/2010/02/17/stop-tellingselling-stories-create-experiences/

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