Media Convergence or Individual Empowerment?

A billboard with the phrase iamsecond .com peaked curiousity in Dallas and drove the curious to a website where they learned it was a religious campaign. It was intriguing and edgy. Blogs were employed to create a viral response. Get enough people referring to the campaign through social media and drive them to the website and you’ve created the buzz necessary to  build awareness without putting enormous money into the campaign.

The campaign converges multiple media; print , billboards, blogs , video, earned media and a book. It illustrates how people use information differently and follow different media paths to get it. Today there are more pathways and more information than ever.

And that’s what has marketers, editors, publishers and other media types frustrated, mystified and excited. Multiple media empower people in ways unimagined. These pathways can lead to separation so extreme it can seem like the atomization of the individual. And they converge in ways that are more holistic, useful and community-building than ever. Thus, the dilemma and promise.

But the media landscape is built, it seems, on shifting sand and information users are a moving target. As quickly as we adopt a new form of media something replaces it and early adapters move to it, leaving the old “new” media behind. Jeff McNealy, CEO at Sun Microsystems says,Technology has the shelf life of a banana .”

Where but a technology museum would one find an artifact only thirty years old? he asks.

And this technology is re-pogramming us. Like the young adults we heard in our meeting, people develop sophisticated capacity to filter out those messages they don’t want to deal with and equally sophisticated ability to utilize media in a way that serves their purposes. The old gate keeping systems of one-way information flow are broken and we’ve yet to fully comprehend how the new media will deliver reliable, trustworthy information when anyone can be a producer and generate content. (I know some critics don’t think mainstream media have done this job well, but the question of veracity and truthfulness is never the less a standing issue on the wide open Internet. And whether the self-correcting capacity of the Internet can run as quickly as an untruth remains in question, as I see it. Mark Twain’s comment still holds, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Today a lie can travel the whole world in a millisecond before truth can reach for its shoes.) But this is a diversion from the subject at hand–convergence.

Convergence has been applied to multiple technologies residing on one device, and to multiple media whose content relate synergistically. Whichever perspective you take, the result is the empowerment of individuals. They not only choose which technology to use, they use the technology to reach content they desire. And therein lies opportunity and challenge.

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