Does technological convergence result in social convergence or are people more isolated and individualized
The more one observes technological trends, the more one gets the impression that it acts like a double edged sword - Technological Convergence introduction. On one end, one can conclusively say that technology is creating a more convergent society. On the other hand however, some individuals have be come more reserved and do not engage other people for consultations or social networking like they used some decades back. Whether technological convergence creates more social networks or more individualized people is therefore a question that can only be answered after looking at different aspects of technological convergence.
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Technology convergence is aptly defined as the process through which telecommunications, media and information technology, which operated as independent sectors previously have merged in the recent past to provide users with a single device that can execute multiple tasks (Papadakis, Stelios, 2007 p 1). Technological convergence is both a technical and functional process, which besides enabling the user to use a single device for entertainment, computing and voice, is necessitated by a single device which has the ability transport all types of data. This process was labelled as a “transformation of atoms to bits” by Nicholas Negroponte (cited by Jenkins, Henry, 2001 p 1). Overall, technological convergence blurs the boundaries that exist between media, telecommunications and information technology (Cunningham& Turner 2002 p117). More to this, the distinctions content delivery system that exists between industries is becoming fewer by the day.
Today, technological convergence is applied in the economic, developmental and social perspective in most social groups (Arenaza, 2007 p2). As such, governments can use technological convergence to create policies that addresses social welfare. Business enterprises can create better strategies to enable them become more competitive using the same. On the individual level, the value added innovative devices enables people to communicate efficiently, to a wider network of people using less complex devices, which can carry out multiple functions.
Technological convergence is credited with the formation of social networks such as Face book, Myspace, LinkedIn, Flixster, Hi5, Wikipedia and You Tube among others (Hsieh, 2008). These are social networking, which jointly account for billions of users through out the world. Because of these forma of networks that emerged as a direct result of technological convergence, one can conclusively state that the concept has succeeded in developing virtual communities around the world (Arenaza, 2007 p2). Through these forms of interactions, the online world generates and circulates data of unprecedented proportions each day. Videos, photographs, and sounds are shared in the social sites and individuals are able to create social networks that are easy to maintain since all one has to do is log into a social site and commence communication.
Technology convergence is also a time saver for most people. Instead of one-to-one meetings, office administrators or managers can now opt for e-meetings. Instead of the conferences that require each member to be present at the boardroom table, people can still meet online via digital conferencing (Hsieh, 2008). This cuts down on costs that would have been used for travelling, entertainment and accommodation in addition to saving the time those participants would have wasted on travel. Ideally, technological convergence serves as a better alternative for communication needs. The effectiveness of technological convergence towards meeting commercial targets and individual inter-relation goals is still a debatable issue. Whist majority of people believe that technological convergence has resulted in a more convergent society, other are convinced otherwise. This paper evaluates conditions areas affected by technological convergence and concludes that this concept has created more social convergence than it has created individualist. True, there are a few people who may have taken the individualistic course as result, but again, they are the minority and no one has the prove that their individualistic approach is entirely as a result of technological convergence.
Technological convergence and the media
Convergence in the media occurs when broadcast, print and online media merge to become one news operations (Giner 2001 cited by Smith et al). Media convergence affects social interaction patterns by the use of digital media, which in most cases does without the use of face-to-face encounters.
The internet offers users the advantage of facilitation and the reciprocal influence of both digital broadcasting and traditional media communication. This is done through high transmission speeds, which gives the user to access vast amounts of information all in multimedia formats. For this, technological convergence enables the media and the users to create online relationships thus reducing the reservations about interpersonal interactions (Webster, 2002 p21).
According to Vilanilam, John, (2005 p164), nothing has changed the media more than the use of computer technology. This is especially so because none of the traditional forms of media have been spared by this revolution. In the 1980’s, for example nearly all forms of media in the United States had utilized computerization in one way or the other (p164). Consequently, media become more graphic oriented as computer graphics took over from the traditional arts.
In a different perspective, communication through internet and email became the new norm of communication since it guaranteed instant communication. Instant messaging and online chats are also a result of communication convergence. In the literature front, electronic papers and books are taking a wider liking than the printed copies (p165)
Electronic communication convergence is defined as the overlapping and continuous utilization of computer systems, e-communication systems and network infrastructure for the organization, production, storage, retrieval, networking and dissemination of digital-encoded information. Such information includes text, visual and audio involved in cable media, broadcasting, print media, telecommunications and IT (Hukill, 2000 cited in Sheldon, P 2001 p63)
An astounding example of the technological convergence in the media is the British Broadcasting Commission (BBC), which has excelled in broadcasting through employing technological innovations throughout its former colonies (Vilanilam, 2005 p 179). Hot on BBC’s heels is the Cable News Network (CNN), which has emerged as a viable competitor to the British broadcaster even in the developing countries. Besides enhancing information availability to every one through out the world in just the same way, technological convergence is making lives easier and the conclusion in this sector is that it is creating more social convergence than it creates individualists. This can be justified by the fact that despite people watching news alone as opposed to when people used to watch in social circles, they then engage in discussions either on blog sites or through viewer/reader response. The fact that one watches the news through personalized digital devices does not rule out the possibility of him or her discussing the topical issues raised in the media through other channels of communication.
Evidence that technological convergence actually leads to a more convergent society as opposed to creating individualist is evident in the much touted globalization concept (Vilanilam, 2005 p 177). Sociologists have conclusively stated that there can never be globalization without communication and the media (Rantanen, Terhi, 2005p 4). Globalization is the concept of more interconnected countries. The globalization process creates more interactions and in the process, countries and economies become more interdependent.
The changes in communication are so widespread that the entrant of ICT signalled what most scholars thought was a new communication order (Preston 2001p216). Others still thought that email, text communications, data, online-information exchange among others was responsible for making a new society (Webster, F 2002 p 9). With the new forms of communication however, came profound cultural changes. The digital technologies and the development of internet are the two variants credited with these changes. Evidently, this too is a sign that the world is becoming a global village and even cultures are not as specific to particular people or regions anymore. The American pop-culture, which is available throughout the world through movies, films and music, is a perfect example of the interactions that the media and technological convergence has created.
According to Rayward (2008 p40), cultural studies have embraced technological ambiance as the background of virtual communication, thus emphasising the need for mediation between people, malleability and also setting them up for the consequent arrangements and re-arrangements.
Convergence in education
The presence of technological convergence is further felt in the education circles and is in fact the new book for professors and students alike (Grant and Killian, 2009). The supporting argument behind the wide use of digital convergence devices in colleges and universities is that the devices eases the way information is disseminated in institutions of learning.
The students with such devices not only have an easy access to internet and email, but can also download class schedules, lecture pod casts, course materials and other academic resources. Upon this realization, some universities and colleges have in the past provided students with iTouch or iPhones, which enables the students to access the school’s net work from any location within the campus. Cases in point are the Abilene Christian University, Harvard, Yale and Stanford who are handing iPhones and iTouch devices to freshmen in a pilot project aimed to show how the devices can transform the learning environment (Grant and Killian, 2009). Dartmouth has also used convergence software successfully for the past twenty years. Known as Blitzmail, the convergence software is the single most unifying communication for students and the professors. The software is used by professors as a teaching tool through which they distribute course information, respond to questions posed by students and even facilitate group work. Unlike the iPhone/ iTouch experience however, the Dartmouth software does not converge the academic and social enterprises thus lacking the advantage of having a single device.
Social networks in the Society
This was greatly aided by the development of information and communication technologies in the 1990’s. According to Rayward (2008 p37), information networks led to the creation of electronic communities, networked urban cultures, trans-nationalism, diasporas and is also credited with the surfacing of symbolic politics.
A social network is made up of individuals who are represented as nodes and ties.
Face book is among the common social networks popular with the youth. It has an estimated 80 million users, of which 85 percent are thought to be college students in the United States. Their individual profiles are linked through institutions and geographical locations. It is estimated that the social network has at least 1 billion photographs posted by the users. The Information categories on face book include one’s full name, phone number, email, hometown, sex, group affiliation, birthday and age. One can also state their relationship status (facebook.com/about us). Through Face book, the user can search and connect with people with similar interests. While on the page, most users will spend time responding to requests sent to them by friends, the page also provide users with the platform through which they can join social groups, one is also able to post comment on other people’s pages. Additionally, the user can add new friends, or send requests to people known to him or her and even chat with those friends who are online. For a person who is looking for new friends, he or she can accomplish his or her mission by surfing through people’s profiles in search for shared interests, memberships or group pages (facebook.com/about us).
MySpace.com is ranked as the fifth common social networking website. It is estimated that the website has an excess of 100 million users and 70 million visitors each day (Wharton University, 2006). The new entrants joining the network on a daily basis was estimated at 230,000 members. My Space and Face book are two competing website. Despite the fact that most young people have pages in both networks, most users spend much time in one of the two (Wilber, D. 2007 p15)
In MySpace, users can share videos, music, photos and even post blogs. The social network states that it targets both the youth and adults throughout the world. Until April 2008, MySpace was more popular than Facebook. The MySpace profile contains the moods feature, which allows be users to define their moods. The ‘blurbs’ function contains an ‘about me’ section, a ‘who I would like to meet’ section and the ‘interests’ section. Additionally, the function also contains the ‘details’ sections. The blogs section is among the prominent features that MySpace has over Facebook. Musicians have distinct profiles in MySpace as they are allowed to upload their discographies, which contains songs in MP3 formats. To upload songs however, the user must have the rights to use the songs either by being the original owner of the songs or proving that the original owner has granted them the rights to publish the songs. The music page has features that enable the user to create a play list. The user also has the ability to archive the songs from preferable artist (myspace.com, 2009).
Among the prominent features in Myspace include Bulletins, a feature that enable the user to posts information that the user would like the people in his/her network to see. The groups feature enables users in the same group to share the same message board through a common page. MySpaceIM, is a feature that allows Instant Messenger powered by Microsoft windows to initiate online chats. MySpace TV is a video sharing feature that operates on Beta-mode. Others include MySpace Mobile, MySpace News, MySpace Classifieds, MySpace Karaoke, Polls and forums (myspace.com, 2009).
Unlike Face book and My Space, LinkedIn targets professionals. The network has 38 million members in more than 200 countries across the world. According to estimations posted on the LinkedIn website (press.linkedin.com), a new member joins the network each second, with half of this being in the Unites States. The mission of this network is to link professionals across the world and provides them with resources and insight into the professional fields. The social network consists of 170 industries represented by the network’s membership. A member of LinkedIn summarizes their professional qualifications and accomplishments when creating a profile, and later invites trusted contacts into the network. As the network grows, multiple professions are linked.
According the information posted in LinkedIn official website (press.linkedin.com), users can access important information about their career fields on the network and can also find potential clients on the same platform. Users can also find potential partners and business opportunities through the same channels. An added advantage of this network is that job seekers can view profiles of the recruiters on the same network. Just like Face Book and MySpace, LinkedIn has a mobile version of the website. The mobile phone service is in six languages namely: Spanish, Japanese, German, English, Chinese and French. The network has some added features like the Amazon application that allows the users to display books they are reading. Blog posts for members can also be viewed through the WordPress and Six Apart applications (press.linkedin.com).
LinkedIn main competitor in the business network category is Plaxo- a network with 20 million users. According to information posted on Forbes.com, LinkedIn gives companies more marketing horsepower as they can promote their products and services through the network. The website also offers accurate target markets as any one listed in the network has a company name as part of the profile (Lindner, M 2009).
Social networks give people the chance to reconnect with people they have since lost contact with due to living in different geographical locations. They also give people the chance to form friendships with people around the same localities, who share the same interests. Although the sites do not promote what the conventional sociologist would call a ‘real-relationship’, at least they manage to get more people communicating. Pro-Individualist argue that the internet is addictive and therefore creates recluses, whose free time is spent surfing the internet. As such, they have no time to spend with their family members, friends and may even pull out from community activities.
But not all convergence in networks is of positive impact to the participants. As a newspaper in the United Kingdom found out, many people may get more than their bargains by signing up for social networks. Identity theft is one of the risks that come with providing so much information on the personal pages provided on the social network pages. By filling all the personal details required in Face book and leaving them on the public domain exposes the users to fraudster. In the case highlighted by the newspaper, a fictitious fraudster was able to use the information to open an electronic bank account (Associated Newspaper, 2009).
The Mobile Phone Market
Technological convergence is further enhanced by the extended use of mobile phones even in the developing markets. According to Ricknas Mikael (2008), mobile phones are better than the PCs because they are in the users pockets 24/7. As such, one’s location does not hamper communication, unless they choose to switch off the communication lines. The advent of Global Positioning System (GPS) and its use in mobile telephony has gone a step further to make mobile telephony more advanced. In 2008 alone, Nokia- the mobile phone company projected that it would sell more than 400 million GPS enabled devices (Pryor quoted by Mikael, 2009). Accordingly, mobile telephony has every possibility of turning social networking as the norm in the society. In addition, the camera enabled phones can be used to record daily occurrences, thus strengthening the social networks, since the users share video clips, -photographs and even audio clips through the mobile phones. The photos can be tagged using metadata and shared in real time. Additionally, the mobile phones can be used to invite people to events. The iPhone and the Blackberry are some of International renowned brands supported by GPS. A more recent development is the social Phonebook, which is a Vodafone initiative that seeks to create a network where friends can know of each other’s location, time zones and availability. By such, friends can only make contact only when it is appropriate to do so, thus avoiding ill-timed contact such as when an overseas call has to be made.
Convergence has also removed most entry barriers for mobile phone operators or service providers (Papadakis, Stelios 2007 p1). The increased operators then sets up competition thus ensuring that the consumer have an extension variation of providers, from which they can choose the services that bests suits them.
The technologically convergent environment blurs the industry boundaries thus allowing providers to offer multiple services in the same market (Papadakis, Stelios 2007 p1). A good example is when a cable operator gives television services, internet services and voice telephony.
The rise of the Network Society
When information technology w as first introduced to organisation in the 1980’s, was floated as the magic tool that would be used to institute changes and reforms in industries (Castells 2000 p184). However, the lack of important organisation structure in most pilot projects only ended up producing rigid and bureaucratic results. At that time, computerized commands were perceived as less serious to the traditional face-to-face commands. As time went by, more American companies started to adopt systems, which were enhanced by technological devices and which enabled even the multi-national to act and manage themselves like the small companies do (Castells 2000 p184).
As globalisation took centre stage, more and more companies found themselves wanting to embrace the news trends. For this the web became a strategic tool to form global alliances, sign subcontracting agreements and even form decentralized policy formulation strategies.
The need to network between organisations flexibly led to an explosion in software development, which became a dynamic segment of the information communication technology.
However, it was not until the convergence of broad band transmission, digital communications network and networked computers that networking technology took a quantum leap ( Castells 2000 p186). This was in part successful because of the software development and a breakthrough in Micro-electronic use. Next was the use of computer based interactive systems on wide-area networks.
Computer based systems were previously in use by local-networks. This eventually led to the emergence of fully interactive, flexible, computer-based management processes. On the business front, networking offered new possibilities for e-commerce, while people on the social circles were presented with a viable platform where they could engage one another despite the geographical and physical separations (187).
Apart from availing a platform where people can exchange information, technological convergence has also enabled people to converge their ideas across disciplines which were previously isolated.
Technological convergence makes processes that were previously done by the individual media, internet and technology even better in acquiring, manipulating, processing, managing, and sharing the resources. This saves the users the time and money that they would have spent while trying to reinvent the virtual wheels (Wong, K, 2007).Enhancement technologies have been credited with reducing inequalities, unfairness, and injustices.
Consequences of technological convergence range from creating more divergent cultures especially among the young people who tend to adopt the popular culture as portrayed through out the media. This is because most sociologists believe that technology has converged to form a uniform society in the future. However, this will take time since there are no convergent ideals of what the society should be (Wong, K, 2007).
The Individualism concept
The argument that technological convergence is creating an individualist society whereby people no longer interrelate on a one-to-one basis as they used to, sprouts mainly from the entertainment circles (Papadakis, Stelios 2007 p2). On entertainment, technological convergence takes credit for having TV and other forms of digital entertainment on the web.
Unlike earlier times when the World Wide Web could only be accessed through a personal computer, the situation is now different and even simple communication devices like cell phones are internet enabled. This means that one can now watch TV, movies or listen to radio or just music from his or her cell phone. For such, traditions like Prime Time TV are no longer the norm since the same can be accessed from hand-held devices.
The above mentioned characteristics point to a trend which indicates that because of technological convergence, meetings, theatre and even film, which were previously seen as meeting platforms for different people are no longer needed.
The family seating room, where family members could converge to watch the prime time news is no longer necessary since each member can access the prime time news from the different digital devices.
Despite this however, technological convergence seems to have created more alliances than broken relations. It is for these reasons that this paper argues that convergence has created a more convergent society than the opposite. Although people no longer sit down to watch prime time news any more, technology has made communication between family members even easier. They no longer have to wait until when they meet at the dinner table to talk. Instead, they can text, call or even chat with their family members from whenever they are.
On the social circles, technology convergence may be accountable for much time being spent surfing the internet and downloading information, but this cannot fully eradicate the need for human contact. For this people still initiate physical meetings, mostly because human contact is indispensable.
The social networks that have emerged as a result if technological convergence is another example that points to the fact that there is more social connection created by the merging of telecommunications, internet and media. In addition, people who stood little chance of ever meeting in person can now trust each other and do business across networks.
Economic growth, national security and even human welfare depend on how well human beings can communicate efficiently (Bainbridge, Williams, 2006). Technological convergence has become a major part of effective human communication today. Even the news media have recognised this and offers their news in electronic form too. Both print media and electronic Medias have not been spared by spared by these changes.
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