Can we please stop talking about convergence?

I know, I'm having a fantasy. The term "convergence" and the idea behind it -- that various industries in technology and entertainment are gradually merging -- is pervasive online and in the popular press. Nothing I write here is going to change that.

But let me say this for the record anyway: The problem with convergence is that when you look closely, it's not happening.

Markets aren't converging, they're diverging. The web deconstructs mass markets, by making it economically attractive for a company to address narrower market segments. Online marketing can be targeted at much more specific demographic groups than mass media could reach, and online communities help companies to talk directly with their most important customers. I've already written about this happening in mobile devices, but if you want another example, look at television: the mass markets are slipping away from the big networks, eaten by a gazillion cable channels. Or look at newspapers, chewed down by a blizzard of websites.

"Convergence" is definitely not the right word for what's happening to markets.

Are the industries converging? If the markets aren't converging, then maybe it's the industries that are doing it. The computer industry gradually merges with telecommunications, which seamlesly blends with entertainment. I can kind of get into that, except for phrases like "gradually merge" and "seamlessly blend." They sound far too gentle. What's actually happening is more like they way they make steel: coal, lime, iron ore, and oxygen get fed into a blast furnace and utterly consumed by unearthly fire. If that's what you mean when you say "convergence," then yeah we're converging.

OK, so what should we call it? I kind of like "spontaneous combustion;" it captures the spirit of what's happening. But I can't picture the Economist running a 16-page special section on the spontaneous combustion of the mobile phone industry, so we need to come up with something snappier. Maybe "deconstruction" or "re-forging." "Collision" might do the trick, but it doesn't sound quite violent enough.

I don't know, what do you think? If you have a better term for it, please post a comment.


UnwiredBen said...

I was on a panel this morning at SXSW called "Designing for Convergent Devices". I never liked the name -- I made the point in my closing remarks that the convergence is in the technology used on the back ends and on the types of application supported by different devices, but I feel that devices will actually continue to diverge -- there's a minimum level of networking and data sharing that's going to be out there, but it's more of the backbone that supports of specialized services and use cases.

Anonymous said...

Actually, my employer (Orange) uses "convergence" to designate the blending of mobile, phone and internet (then data, now entertainement) services --- a synonim to Triple-play. That is happening, it's a technological challenge and a good thing (provided niche competition is safe). I used "blend" because the classical, powerful, image is of someone coming home while looking at something on his mobile, and have it seamlessly appear on hi big screen.

I love the "forge" image to designate the fact that two industries see their fontier collapse --- but neither the blend, nor the forge assumes a long tail of niche offers is not springing.

A model that sounds stable to me is a complex layer cake of platforms and content, each content being the frame of more a specific need, not unlike heavy industry made current electronic possible.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I have a tough time with this one from my perspective.

The functions of once separate mobile devices - imaging, music, video, gaming, navigation, computing, messaging, etc. - are [insert word here] onto handsets.

[converging, fusing, merging, blast furnace melting, combining, joining, unhappily coexisting, jammed together, melting, married, stuck, placed separately, booger (what, this isn't a Madlib?), lumped, intertwined, forced, welded, seamlessly integrated, converged]


Anonymous said...

From the perspective of a network infrastructure vendor, their market is converging, I think. Most service providers are converging their networks to an IP-based core around which they can provide triple-play and quad-play. I do agree that the end markets seem to be diverging. So I think there's a contextual element to get out of the way first when discussing convergence...

Michael Mace said...

Thanks, folks.

Okay, for analogies we have a layer cake (interesting comment, Bertil), an emergence (from one of the track backs), and a whole bunch of terms from Avi.

"Unhappily coexisting" is a pretty good description for today, but not a good description for the long term (because the coexisting thing won't last). I kind of like "fusing."

Any more ideas?

Anonymous said...

How about this?

1. "Designing for [Influential] Devices";
2. "Using [Influential] Services"
3. "Photos, Videos, Music, News, Games, Computation, and Navigation and Communication Are Now [Influencing] Handsets"
4. "IP enables [Influential] Networks"

Could it be that convergence is just a technical term, like interoperability? Is it possible that these technologies we're mashing together and remixing into our favorite colors are powerful primarily in as much as they influence our participation in our culture(s)?

If the answer to both of the above is "yes" then I propose we start talking about influential technologies, influential applications, service influences, influential users, vendor influences, influenced programming - in short, the Influential Economy. That influence become the salient subject, in the sense that influence defines good jazz, blues, hip-hop, rock, wine, stew, writing, painting, cartoons, captions, jokes, and limmericks.

You know what I'm saying?

Thank you, Jonathan Lethem.