Black Box Fallacy

“Media convergence impacts the way we consume media.” (14).

Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. NYU Press, 2008.

Black Box Fallacy
Jenkins coined the “Black Box Fallacy” in response to the common argument that “all media content is going to flow through a single black box into our living rooms (or, in the mobile scenario, through black boxes we carry around with us everywhere we go)” (14). He goes on to cite a 202 Cheskin Research report that states that whereas the prevailing thought was one convergence and everything merging into one device, the reality is that we are seeing more divergence with many devices. Jenkins even discusses his own living room entertainment that includes television, cable box, VCR, DVD player, digital recorder, sound system, game system, and a mass of video tapes.

However, while this text was published just a few years ago (2006), I must observe that it seems to be going the other way, a way not unlike the predicted path of convergence. For example, a few years ago, I got a combination DVD/VCR player. Also, my cable box is now a digital recorder. And while some televisions come equipped with some of this built in, the reality is that we are increasingly moving toward a time without much tangible recorded media, such as VHS tapes, DVD, CDs, etc. The highly-popular Netflix, which offered members DVD rentals via postal mail now works digitally, so one can download a movie to watch. Similarly, one can rent movies “on-demand” and have them streamed directly to a television or even a hand-held device. While I too have an elaborate sound system, the quality of sound now available within many of the new (and larger) flat-screen TVs is getting better. Even games can now be downloaded and played online through a television. And while it still currently requires some game system, that too will likely be soon merged with another device. In other words, while divergence may have been the reality in a time of predicted convergence, in this short 5ish year period, the reality seems to truly be one of convergence and looks to be continuing in that direction.

Similarly, what was once merely a portable phone, the cell phone now allows a user to conduct any activity that once existed in other hand-held devices (camera, calculator, PDA applications, games, etc. Even more impressive is the browser and software abilities and speed now available on many cell phones (i.e. iPhone and Droid). I can now search any website, conduct online baking, open Microsoft office docs, and so on. Jenkins notes early in this text his dissatisfaction with not being able to purchase just a cell phone (phone that does not do everything else). However, he also states “On the other end of the scale, we may be forced to deal with an escalation of functions within the same media appliance to serve its original function, and so I can’t get a cell phone that is just a cell phone” (15). Respectfully, I’d say you can’t have it both ways. In other words, Jenkins calls it a black box fallacy as in it is not really happening, and yet he details examples of it with the cell phone. It appears that the perspective of divergence vs. convergence is not only dependent on the time, but also on the particular technology and use: a situated context.

Essentially, convergence is ongoing. “Convergence refers to a process, not endpoint” (16). It also impacts the way we use media. So, the application of the OVC in the asynchronous online classroom did not exist a few years ago. That it now exists and that instructors are beginning to incorporate it into their teaching alters the environment, the structure, the communication, and to some extent, the pedagogy of the class. Clearly, this opens many opportunities for further research on what differences this application brings to teaching philosophies and plans as well as learning comprehension and retention.

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