This post is one of a series based on my draft writings and thoughts for a current PhD research project, part of the UNESCO Chair project ‘Crossing Media Boundaries: Adaptations and New Media Forms of the Book’. I am working with a self-published author to create a co-creative online reader community where users can share their very own content, stories, artwork, etc. to expand the story world across media. Its an experiment, and the journey is only starting… http://naturemage.com All feedback / ideas welcome!
Image: Nature Mage logo, by James Ledsham – see his profile here: http://www.naturemage.com/people-working-on-this-community
Device seems to be the easiest term to define. An iPad is a device, a TV is a device, a computer is also a device. A device is an electronic gadget, which can be used for one or more purposes. Most modern devices have multi-media capacities, and can be used to access multiple forms of content, from text, to video, to sound, to games, and so on.
A platform is typically used on the media industries to define a group or set of devices that are seen as of the same type, or very similar. This is a bit thornier. TV is considered a platform, mobile is a platform (regardless of type of mobile, or specific device); game console is another kind of platform; print is yet another platform. The problem with this classification is that modern devices fulfil overlapping functions and present access to the same content, which formerly was reserved for a specific medium and associated device or technology. You would read a story in a printed piece of paper (or perhaps a parchment, or a stone); you would watch a film at the cinema, later also on a television; you would listen to the radio on a radio. As Henry Jenkins (ref) explains, nowadays it is hard to find a mobile phone that only makes calls. It is still called a ‘phone’ but for some users it is much more a Walkman, a website device, or a games console, than a phone. And now you can read, listen, watch and even play the same text, on one platform, using one device. Forget simple, forget neat, what we have now is great wavy lines of intersecting and overlapping content. That is why for Jenkins the smartphone is one of the most suitable symbols of media convergence in our societies.
A medium is defined in the Cambridge dictionary as either ‘a substance that something grows in, lives in, or moves through’, or ‘a method or way of expressing something’. Print is considered a medium, cinema is a medium, we often talk of the broadcast media (TV and radio), and also the mass media, which add newspapers to the list of media already mentioned. And then there are the so-called ‘new media’, which as Janet Murray (2011: 8) suggests encompass a range of artefacts made possible thanks to computers, including among other the Internet, videogames, or computer-based animation. Murray suggests it is a blanket term characterised by a vagueness that hides its true meaning. ‘New’ media are not necessarily the newest forms of media around; what they effectively have in common is the fact that they are only possible thanks to computers. Murray suggests instead the use of the term digital media. In fact, she defends that it is productive to think of digital artefacts as parts of a single ‘digital medium, the medium that is created by exploiting the representational power of the computer’. She (Ibid: 9) adds an important point about convergence:
…[F]ormats that we once thought of as fixed and separate, like spoken and written messages, books and games, movies and file cabinets, television and telephones are being deconstructed into their component parts and reconfigured for interactivity.
As deconstruction, merging and remixing take place, we witness the appearance of evermore combinations and formats, many of which can perhaps be described as hybrid converging formats.