Friday, April 30, 2010


In the introduction to Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins argues against the understanding of convergence as merely a technological phenomenon, stressing instead that convergence represents a very important cultural shift in the relationship between the consumer and media content. The active, participatory consumer who crafts individual entertainment experiences by making connections across dispersed media outlets has replaced the old conception of the passive consumer. Convergence culture reflects a shift from industrial capitalism, in which consumers were viewed as a monolithic demographic to which mechanically reproduced and unpersonalized commodities could be marketed. As Donna Haraway explains in A Cyborg Manifesto, in post-industrial society "the home, workplace, market, public arena, the body itself--all can be dispersed and interfaced in nearly infinite, polymorphous ways" (163). Haraway's image of the cyborg, which is always a fractured, partial identity, pushes back against the essentialist image of the consumer in industrial society. What Jenkins' convergence culture and Haraway's cyborg point toward is a new flow-based mode of subjectivity that sets the stage for a rhetoric of personalization through its focus on difference and change over static identity. With the introduction of the iPad, Apple takes advantage of the rhetoric of personalization to channel the user's desire for a distinct new media experience into the act of consumption. More than Apple's previous new media devices, the iPad intensifies the enclosure of the consumer within an Apple-centric closed system of media convergence, one in which the consumer's needs for various media content are met through Apple.

In the April 2010 Wired article "How the Tablet Will Change the World", Steven Levy writes that "the iPad offers a streamlined yet powerful intuitive experience that’s psychically in tune with our mobile, attention-challenged, super-connected new century" ( What appears as Apple's catering to convergence culture in a form that "streamlines" the participatory experience for iPad users is actually an ideological restructuring of user subjectivity, an ideology driven solely by the capitalist profit motive in which the user is always and above all a consumer of and through Apple. Behind a rhetoric of efficiency, ease, and choice, Apple has in fact created a structure in which it is the entity through which all media and information can or must be accessed. As Levy notes, the "rigidly enforced standards of aesthetics will ensure that the iPad remains an easy-to-navigate no-clutter zone," a feature that seems wholly to the benefit of the user, but in fact plays into Apple's consumption paradigm. The strict aesthetics of the iPad, with its icons arranged in orderly rows across the screen allows for very little of the personalization afforded by the desktop of a computer. Whatever desire a user may have for personalization or individualization must be satisfied through the act of consumption through the App Store, of selecting and purchasing apps with which to outfit one's iPad. Apps are only available through the App store, and all developers and publishers must have their apps cleared by Apple. The App Store is the final and arguably the most crucial component in an Apple-centric closed system, one in which the need to go beyond Apple is preempted or denied. Users not only get their apps solely through the app store, but they must also surf the web on Apple's Safari browser, can only access web media that is QuickTime compatible, and must use the iPad's iPod to listen to music or watch movies.

In a sense, it is possible to argue that Jenkins foresaw this type of corporation-centric convergence, writing that convergence "is both a top-down corporate-driven process and a bottom-up consumer-driven process" (18). Jenkins saw corporate convergence in "new media conglomerates" like Warner Bros., which "have controlling interests across the entire entrainment industry" (16). Apple's model, however, is new and totalizing in that it also acts at the level of the device with which consumers access their media content. By starting with the media technology, with the success and ubiquity of the iTunes and App stores it is easy to forget that Apple was first and foremost a electronics developer, and then expanding to the regulating of media content, Apple was able to create a closed system unlike any other. Through the iPad, Apple complicates Jenkins' argument that "convergence does not occur through media appliances, however sophisticated they may become" (3). While the Apple-centric style of convergence does not occur solely through the iPad, the device nevertheless plays an instrumental role in Apple's consumption ideology as this "media appliance" allows Apple to shape a specific form of convergence culture. Furthermore, through the iPad Apple problematizes Jenkin's argument that "delivery systems are simply and only technologies," opposed to "cultural systems" (14). By restricting access to software and thereby creating a monopoly on "delivery", Apple incorporates the delivery technology as an element of capitalist ideology.

Apple's restrictions on software appear to intentionally circumvent the bottom-up, collective trend in theories of new media after the company initially used them to market their products. As closed and totalizing as Apple's closed system may be, however, it is important to remember Jenkins' "convergence refers to a process, not an endpoint" (16). Quoting Pool, Jenkins asserts that "convergence does not mean ultimate stability or unity [but rather] operates as a constant force for unification but always in dynamic tension with change" (11). American culture is in a state of transition, similar to the one Jenkin's posits, in which media conglomerates battle confusedly for what markets and delivery technologies (it is interesting to note this media war also coincides with what Haraway terms "boundary wars"). If Apple's current war with Adobe is any indication other new media corporations--if not consumers--may soon wake up and break down the walls of Apple's self-centric structure, allowing for new and different systems of convergence to emerge.

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