Media Convergence as Bubble-Bubble

I’ve complained about Bruce Sterling before, and now I’m about to do it again. The reaon is this chart of platform convergence by Gary Hayes that he posted on Wired. It argues that we’re moving towards one device that can play everything. But here’s the thing:

No device can play everything. That’s just common sense, right? You can digitize a VHS-tape and convert it into a format that modern media players can understand. But then it’s not a VHS-tape anymore. Everything that is special about VHS has been removed. It’s a bleak imitation, at best. Sure, the difference is less if you discuss, uhm, Real Audio or executable files. But it’s still the same principle. The juicy materiality (hard- or softwareal) has been stripped away.

Emulators are not the same thing as the original machine. They are not worse or better – they are just different. One example is the C64-emulator for iPhone that wasn’t allowed to include BASIC. Coding is not something that the iPhone should support. So the C64 became yet another boring gaming device, in iWorld. Btw, that follows the logic of the chart, that places the C64 just before … XBOX! Lol! The point is: every remediation & convergence both adds and subtracts. Things disappear. For good and bad.

Media convergence is obviously something that’s going on, in many different ways. And when I think about it – perhaps Sterling and his crew are right. There will be a machine in the future that can do everything. Yeah. I’m pretty sure there will be. Because we already had that machine so many times before. The magical device that can delete the material constraints and make your dreams come true instantly and without friction. Remember virtual reality in the 1990’s? Or home computers in the 1980’s? Or … I don’t know, beamers and wheel chairs and jet paks?

Silly comparison? Maybe a little. But we have to accept that these interface fantasies are cultural constructions that were as “real” or relevant in the 80’s as they are today. In 30 years people will patronize our fantasies just like we do today.

And when you think about it… A touch screen that you can use some fingers on? No keyboard? Unprogrammable systems, automatic surveillance, distribution monopolies… I mean. Eh?

This convergence is just a bubble-bubble. It’s not some unavoidable teleological future. Seems more like a temporary phase before we move towards divergence and paint that in terms of progress and optimism. Just like we did with the 1980’s computer market, for example. Seems pretty likely to me.

8 Responses to “Media Convergence as Bubble-Bubble”

  1. TozZ Says:

    Interesting conclusion, maybe a little bit too optimist thought :-) I see a connection with this writting from Rudolf Winestock (taken form Nicholas Caar blog :

    “The desktop computer won’t completely disappear. Instead, the outward form of the personal computer will be retained, but the function — and the design — will change to a terminal connected to the cloud (which is another word for server farm, which is another word for mainrack, which converges on mainframes, as previously prophesied). True standalone personal computers may return to their roots: toys for hobbyists.”

    Also, chart isn’t linked : first and second hyperlinks are the same…

  2. Jonatan Says:

    I think you mixed up the links a little. Is this the chart you’re talking about?

  3. Johan Kotlinski Says:

    The link to the chart seems broken.

  4. goto80 Says:

    Fixed the second link:

    Winestock might prove to be right, who knows. But the combination of hobbyists and cloud seems a bit conflicting to me. I guess I think of hackers with hardware platforms in mind. And that hobbyists/hackers prefer to keep things under control. And right now, the cloud/internet doesn’t really offer that. But I suppose the future hacker will be different than s/he is today.

  5. Sendy Says:

    C64 > Ecksbocks?! Psh… :)

  6. iLKke Says:

    To me it seems we are moving in the opposite direction. I have a computer in my pocket that has a phone (or tele-phone, according to that chart) built in. But it does not admit to being a computer, it is intended as a consumer terminal instead. It is a subset of the computer family that has intentionally limited functionality, pretty much like that c64 iEmulator. I still prefer the computer that will let me choose how to use it, and I don’t consider myself a hobbyist because of that.
    There is perhaps a similar trend with software. For example, before you could just buy Flash and be able to make vector artwork, websites, animations or games. The upcoming set of web development tools from Adobe will have two separate applications just for editing CSS. A universal product is apparently not commerically smart – you sell it once.

  7. goto80 Says:

    That’s a very good point.

    It makes me think of “dual screening” – when people use tablets or smartphones while watching TV. I’ve even seen people do triple screening. You *could* do it all with one machine, but people don’t.

    Like you say, each gadget has its own use. And maybe it’s a tendency that mega software suits shrink into more specific tools instead. Perhaps we could call that platform divergence.

    But we can still talk about media convergence. When, for example, communication and distribution channels are increasingly centralized to one owner.

  8. Text-mode can show everything that pixels can, so… | CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] So: digital imagery pretends to be analogue film but it actually shares more with e.g textiles and mosaics, which has looked digital for thousands of years. To replace the pixel metafor with the text mode metafor is to bring forth the medium and its history, instead of obscuring it. It’s also a way to put more emphasis on the decoding process, since we all accept that a text looks different depending on font, character encoding, screen, etc. And that’s pretty rare in times of media convergence psychosis. […]

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