Converging Technologies, Divergent Cultures

The FT published an interesting comment by Vittorio Colao, the Chief Executive of Vodafone, which essentially argued that the French President, Nicholas Sarkozy, was right to argue for stronger regulation of the Internet (FT 6 June 2011). Mr Colao’s view nicely illustrates the degree that real convergence of media must be based on more than simple technical convergence. Technically, the mobile phone and the Internet are increasingly converging on common and hybrid infrastructures. However, the mobile phone industry is anchored in a very different culture – the same culture that has fostered so-called ‘walled gardens’, which have only recently begun to be lowered. Surely the mobile industry has evidence that most users do not wish to be walled in by the providers. Whomever is right, in the longer-run, this cultural split between that of the closed mobile phone and the open Internet industries is a major obstacle to real convergence.  I can’t see the world returning to walled gardens, but that might be my own wishful thinking.

An excellent discussion of the many dimensions of convergence was written years ago by Nicholas Garnham, see: N. Garnham, ‘Constraints on Multimedia Convergence’, pp. 103-19 in Dutton, W. H. (1996, reprinted 2001), Information and Communication Technologies – Visions and Realities (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

 

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