I remember as a kid every year my Dad would publish a family newsletter. It was called the ‘Thomas telegraph’ (or something equally as cringey) and it would outline everything that my three sisters and I had done over the year from dance concerts to sporting finals and everything in between. It was sent all over the world to my scattered relatives, some of whom I’d never even heard of, and that was our update for the year- a typed out telegraph of our times. We’d wait eagerly for the replies; stories of what my Welsh cousins or English Grandparents had been up to, photos and video tapes showing our own genes on the other side of the world. There was an innate sense of disbelief and wonder when we’d rush to the letter box and find a worn and torn envelope that had travelled distances we couldn’t have even dreamt of.
Nowadays I just refresh my newsfeed.
We cannot deny that times have changed, but the accelerating convergence of media from telegram to letters to e-mails has led us to the familiar shade of blue we all know as Facebook.
There are 1.591 billion Facebook users in the world, one of them being my Great Uncle Colin who jumped on the bandwagon after all his nieces and nephews went abroad. Whether or not he knows exactly how Facebook works (and I can personally assure you he doesn’t), or that his private information is now public, or even that advertisers are tracking and targeting him really doesn’t matter. The appeal of Facebook is that he can refresh his page and see exactly what his family are doing in an instant rather than having to wait 3 weeks for snail mail. The ease of communication is Facebook’s selling factor to majority of it’s users as they move away from typical communication outlets.
And this is exactly why these traditional means of communication are declining in the literal face of Facebook. If we throw it into perspective, one hundred and forty-one billion letters are sent in the post every day. Now to me that seems unfathomable, that is until you look at the Facebook statistics– one billion messages every day. That means around 365 billion Facebook messages are being sent a year- so nearly 9 times traditional mail outlets. The Royal Mail in the United Kingdom have recently announced that their sales have fallen 40%, blaming it on the rise in social media, and the trend is continuing. The convergence of media from telegraph to letters to emails and now Facebook has caused great changes in the way we communicate.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) have defined convergence as;
‘The phenomenon where digitisation of content, as well as standards and technologies for the carriage and display of digital content, are blurring the traditional distinctions between broadcasting and other media across all elements of the supply chain, for content generation, aggregation, distribution and audiences’.
By dissecting this quote we can see exactly how traditional forms of media have converged to their penultimate destination in Facebook- The ‘digitisation’ whereby messages are moving online and away from written word. The ‘standards and technologies’ as Facebook continues to pave the way for social media platforms, attempting to monopolise the industry. The ‘blurring of traditional distinctions’ where the defiance of traditional media has lead to a whole new way in which we engage with other. Facebook epitomises convergence.
Either consciously or unconsciously we have streamlined the way we communicate with each other, ultimately ending at the one-stop-shop we all know as Facebook. Not only can it shoot a message to the other side of the world in a matter of seconds, but Facebook acts as a personal calendar reminding us of birthdays and removing the need to buy a birthday card, a shopping site with links personalised just for us to browse, a newspaper full of trending stories and the latest of the world stage and our very own personal photo album that in 50 years time our grandchildren can flick through at their own leisure. It has even developed to be a personal safety beacon where if you are in the vicinity of a natural or human disaster you can let your family know you’re safe at the click of a button. Facebook has taken all the best bits about traditional means of communication and put them into one easy, accessible avenue that basically anyone can use.
100 years ago we relied on telegrams, 50 years ago it was letters, 20 and it was email and today, Facebook. Audiences have constantly chased the latest, greatest and most accessible trends in communication as they have converged. Facebook works more effectively than any other aspect of communication we have ever encountered before; it’s free, it’s easy and it connects us to literally anywhere we want to go. And maybe this is exactly what Zuckerberg wants us to believe; that is his way or the highway. But at the end of the day, the legacy of the ‘Thomas telegraph’ is long gone, and Uncle Colin can’t get enough of messenger.
Boyd, D, ‘It’s Complicated; the social lives of networked teens’, pg 29-54, 2014