media convergence & its effect on the consumer

People talk about the way media is changing like it’s the end of the world. We talk about how newspaper circulation rates are dwindling, how the 24-hour TV news cycle is ruining the integrity of the information the media gives us, how no one listens to the radio anymore–and all of these issues hold varying degrees of truth, but media convergence doesn’t mean the end of media as we know it. What media convergence does mean is innovation and a whole lot of opportunity.

Newspapers, television and radio have been around for ages. They’ve evolved and changed over the years to better suit their readers, viewers and listeners. When the Internet sprang up, they kept evolving and changing, perhaps a little timidly. Now, with the advent of social media and personal blogging platforms, we have so many options and outlets to stay informed as well as voice our own opinions. Before the Internet, news was largely a one-way street. Newspapers printed what they wanted to say with little interaction from their readers–maybe a letter to the editor or two, but newspapers weren’t about being a conversation. With social media as well as online news platforms, consumers (readers, viewers, etc.) can interact with their news in a new way. Consumers can tweet at the media organizations that deliver their news, offering commentary, praise, criticism–whatever they’d like to say. They can leave (often inflammatory) Facebook comments on links to stories. And, on websites like Medium, anyone can write their own pieces to be published and distributed on the web, covering a variety of topics.

Because new media (as opposed to traditional media) is so widely accessible to a broad audience, it can give more people platforms to have their voices heard. In a way, media convergence affects the consumer by making the consumer, in some way, part of the media. Because we do have access to the Internet and because many once-traditional media outlets are adopting a more online-friendly, digital component to their publications and broadcasts, we get news in a much more personalized, interactive manner. We can get mobile news alerts on our phones, we can like and follow pages and Twitter accounts for news organizations that we enjoy–we tailor our media consumption to our own preferences, and we can interact with those organizations. Media convergence has allowed for a conversation between the consumer and the producers, creating a more interactive experience for us as media consumers.

privacy on the internet: it’s an exchange

I like to think of privacy as an exchange–a transaction, if you will. Like exchanging a handful of quarters for a soda from the vending machine, you exchange your privacy for some convenience or information on the internet.

If you want privacy, you have to be willing to give something up–information, convenience, whatever. So while I’m conscious of the image that I give off through social media, the information about myself that I put out on the Internet, and even the cookies that websites use to track my activity, I’m not overly worried.

I don’t mind sharing information about myself on the Internet. It’s what I’m doing right now, and it’s what I do every time I use Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. I publish my work to the web regularly for The Oklahoma Daily, and I publish my work to my photography portfolio and blog website. In some cases, I want people to see what I’m doing. I want people to see my photography and my work for The Daily,  so I give up some privacy. I want people to see my stories on social media, so I keep my account privacy relatively lax, allowing plenty of people to see what I’m up to. I’m careful about it, of course, but I make a conscious decision to give up my privacy when I’m using the Internet.

Of course, there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes when I’m using social media or even sending an email. As a Gmail user, I know keywords from my email correspondence are picked up and shot off to advertisers, and I know it because when I open emails from my Poem-a-Day newsletter, the ads on the side read “Publish your poetry now!” and “Self publish a book now!” And while I’m not particularly interested in publishing poetry or a book, it’s not overly bothersome to me. I love Gmail. Would I love it more if it wasn’t scanning my emails for advertising buzzwords? Maybe a little. But Gmail is a free service, so I exchange some of my privacy for an email service that doesn’t let lots of spam into my inbox and that works nicely on a lot of devices.

I know that websites track my activity with cookies, too, and I know it because if I’m looking at sweaters online (which, as it so happens, I often do), ads I see on other websites encourage me to buy those very same sweaters or consider different brands of sweaters. This exchange of privacy might seem more malicious because I’m never agreeing to a terms of service upfront when I get to an online store, and I don’t know what other information is being tracked about my Internet use. Still, I’m exchanging some privacy for the convenience of shopping online.

While Internet tracking can quickly go from harmless to sinister, we make a conscious decision to use the Internet to make our lives easier. If Internet services overstep their boundaries in terms of what we’re willing to share with them, we’ll take a stand, and they’ll step back. As long as we’re conscious of how we’re using the Internet and what information we’re divulging about ourselves online, the Internet and all it has to offer can be fabulously useful.