Convergence and Media Technology

Topics: Virtual community, Virtual reality, Howard Rheingold Pages: 5 (1480 words) Published: February 24, 2011
Convergence is a term that can be broadly used to define multiple contexts. In relation to technology the growth and development is evident in information, communication and business around the world. The Internet technology is a prime example of all three categories, which contribute to the understanding of convergence in today’s form of communication and new media. The emergence of social media network communities and free market economies were brought to life due to the birth of the internet while the technological convergence of products such as computer and telecommunication devices also brought about the discussion of whether or not these developments were fulfilling the predictions of future utopia and dystopia possibilities portrayed in texts such as ‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley and ‘War of the Worlds: Cyberspace and the High tech Assault on Reality’ by Mark Slouka. This essay will focus on the technological convergence and its consequences – Utopia or Dystopia.

The development of the ‘Net’ began with the interconnection of computer networks using computer-mediated communications technology to connect people around the world, in public discussion forums and sharing of information through the telephone systems. It was soon the nucleus for ideas and fueled by the ‘gift economy’; a social act of sharing valuable information or goods with no immediate returns or even future rewards. With the steady increase in active participants and common interests, various types of virtual communities were born.

Having a utopian position in regards to technology, is to imply that there are technological solutions to social problems (Ward, 1997). These solutions are defined in terms of technology’s effect on communitarian mindsets such as the need to balance individual rights and interests with that of the community as a whole through self-governing participation. While a large part of a social utopia is achieved through the realisation of a virtual community on the internet, critics such as Howard Rheingold define this community as being an opportunity to “find connection in a computerised world” (Rheingold, 1987). The communitarian argument suggests that because the Internet will ease the process of civic engagement, the accessibility of communication between individuals can go beyond geographic and social boundaries. Rheingold believed that online communities created opportunities to contribute to virtual relationships based on common interests with a ‘hunger’ for a community environment. It is a place where one is both the performer and audience while the connections made by these interactions encourage the formation of new deliberative spaces and of collective action.

Rheingold who authored ‘The Virtual Community’ in 1994 provided the cushioning for society and their first encounter of new technology, portraying the internet as a utopian potential. His interpretation of the virtual community has provided developers of today to produce sophisticated commercial applications that now exemplifies Rheingold’s ‘theme park’ concept into graphics-based virtual realities where individuals may recreate themselves with virtual bodies or “avatars” as the focus of interaction. Through a virtual world, while utopia seems to be the overall idea most people derive from being able to communicate with others about common interests, it also gives the user the opportunity to create a virtual identity. The idea of the detached self from a utopian perspective means that people are ‘self represented’ and not bound to social conventions and physical discriminations. The level of anonymity provided by the lack of face-to-face interaction meant individuals were free to explore issues from identity to sexuality with no limitations. Therefore a utopian online environment is largely based on the notion that the communication medium is vital in determining effects (McLuhan, 1964). This approach promotes the democratic potential of...
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