Unity in Convergence?



I was going through The Business Standard Motoring March 2001 condensed
version, which is supplied to subscribers of the daily publication, and an
article there concerning the Honda Monkey made me realize what was wrong with
convergence.

For those who aren’t bike fans, a word portrait of the Monkey. The Monkey
is a motorbike with the wheels of a scooter. This vehicle looks cute, but has
some problems. In attempting to ensure a convergence between the scooter and the
motorbike, the vendor has thrust upon us a vehicle, which lacks the best of both
vehicles, and includes their worst features.

Please note that I have nothing against Honda. I wish that I can own the mean
140 bhp Honda X-11, and zoom around, scaring the daylights out of everybody.
This bike will have two rear-view mirrors, but not for the purpose of ensuring
safe turns. I shall use them to view the Ferraris and the Jaguars receding into
the background… but here, I’m dreaming. Let’s get back to the story.

The Monkey, thanks to the small wheels, lacks the stability of a real
motorbike. Also, the design of the bike ensures that you can’t carry luggage
with the ease possible in a standard scooter. What I mean to say is that while
one looks at convergence, one loses out on features. And yes, while all of us
love to hate creeping featurism, here, the features lost are the ones we need
and enjoy.

Earlier, thanks to limited options, the convergence mania was restricted.
When TV came, some spoke of reading newspapers on TV, which, thankfully, did not
materialize. But with the Internet, chaos broke free. In technical terms, the
Net is a network of networks. But insofaras the layman is concerned, the Net is
the media of media. And suddenly, everything started moving to the Net.

This has ensured that the Net, the best media so far, has never been seen as
a true, pure media in its own light. People have felt that convergence–of
video, audio, text, and the kitchen sink thrown in for good measure–is the way
to go.

And so, there you have it. Portal sites which mimic magazines and offer some
rudimentary video, while lacking the portability and convenience of a real
magazine, and the high quality of a real TV. Radio music fed through the Net,
which requires that you sit in front of the big clunky PC which is bigger than
the old valve radios, which proliferated before the transistor was invented. And
people from the office visiting cricket sites, while earlier one listened to
live commentary from a small transistor radio, which costs a paltry hundred
bucks.

This madness must end. True, convergence works great with a Swiss knife, but
in the field of infotech and consumer electronics as a whole it has been a
let-down. Instead of adding to the experience and usability, convergence has
usually minimized these things.

And the mania has had people talk about microwave ovens, which download
recipes from the web, which is foolish and hilarious when one thinks about it
deeply. I mean, it is as silly as wishing a convergence between a car and a
plane! (Actually, it has been done. A gentleman called Paul Moller has spent 35
years making the Skycar. And well, as for the marketing success–how many have
you seen lately?)

Parthian shot

Convergence is largely built around marketing hype, and reminds us of the
dot-com mania. The logic here is that if everybody is doing it, it can’t be
wrong. Also, it is much like how companies behaved when the web started growing.
Everybody who was anybody was trying to outdo somebody on the web. The issue of
convergence has been covered quite well by Al Ries and Laura Ries in The 11
Immutable Laws of Internet Branding. In this book, the authors have shown how
divergence is consistent with the laws of nature, and convergence is not. Or, as
Sherlock Holmes puts it so finely in A Study in Scarlet, "One’s ideas
must be as broad as Nature if they are to interpret Nature."

BALAJI N The views expressed here are
those of the author

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