O texto que vou publicar abaixo foi escrito em 2008. Não mexi em nada. Interessante ver como algumas coisas que eu “previ” na época aconteceram, e aconteceram muito rapidamente. Comentários seriam muito bem vindos!

Convergence refers to the power of digital media to combine voice, video, data,
text and money in new applications, devices and networks.” – University of Syracuse Center for Convergence.

Can you still picture yourself going to a library to find information about any given subject? Maybe coming to work in the morning and sitting at your desk without a PC? How about your life – personal or professional – without e-mail, digital pictures, and a cell phone?

The answer to all those questions is probably “no” – such were the changes brought to our daily routine by the advent of computers and the Internet. The only problem seemed to be that all that information – and the power it brings us – used to be confined by the hardware it resided on, or by the medium in which it traveled to finally reach us, the users.

Recently this paradigm started to change. Processes and tools were created and others are under development in order to change the way by which information becomes digitized and delivered via the global network currently known as Internet, both to other software applications and to mechanical devices such as your TV set. This set of tools and processes, and the resulting information delivery, is what we refer to as Digital Convergence.

Internet and the future of television

Have you ever wondered if you would ever be able to really choose what is on TV? Not on pay-per-view, but rather watching whatever you want, whenever you want it, and not having to pay for it? Being your own TV programmer, no cost, no rules? That might be closer than you expect. Apple has just released Apple TV in the United States, a set top device that lets you play whatever is on your computer (digital media) on your TV set. As they put it, the TV is the center of your entertainment life, and the computer is the center of your digital life. Why not join the two? Granted, the gadget still has the limitation of only being able to buy films and TV series at iTunes, but it is a leap forward. Plus, it brings together many of the concepts that will be standard from now on, such as seamless Wi-Fi connectivity and integration between devices that didn’t connect in earlier times. Other companies are working on similar solutions, such as Microsoft and Sony. This leads us to think of a time when you will use your PC to access your favorite TV station site, click away at things you want to watch and they will come, via super wideband connections, right to your widescreen TV. Your TV set will turn into a high definition, large size monitor.

The computer in turn will be a video library, storing thousands of movies, YouTube independent videos, ads, newscasts. These could be tailored to meet your specific interests, giving more attention and coverage depth to those topics. This convergence, in particular, can include online, real time movie sales and rental services, meaning that one day the DVD rental store will be in danger of going out of business.

Cable, broadband and more

Cable operators started a while ago to include broadband Internet access in their offerings, and – more recently – telephone service to complete the package. This is another example of the move towards convergence, since former providers of one type of communication have begun joining forces with other parties in order to improve service offerings. Carriers are becoming “Quad Play” to improve their earnings per customer (if you are a single-play company, you just provide landline service. Add cell phone coverage, and you become a double play. Add Internet service and TV, and you are a quad play). The possibility of full convergence is becoming closer, with all the features described previously in this article and more. The underlying meaning of this is simple: companies that do not evolve into multiple combined offerings will find it difficult to survive in the 21st century.

On the user side, advantages are multiple: fewer bills to track, better prices for service packages and value-added services.

Cell phones, Internet and payments

Money is still the force that drives the world, and as security issues become more of a challenge, the less of it you carry around (physically, that is) the better. That is why many banks are collaborating with cellular carriers in order to deploy applications to move money from bank accounts via a cell phone. This will make it possible to buy a soda from a vending machine just by sending an SMS to a specific number, for instance. Another feature – already fully functional – is the operation of your home banking system from special mobile-designed portals. Banco do Brasil – Brazil’s largest financial institution – reports 340,000 of its clients regularly use this service, performing an estimated 2 million transactions per month – bill payment, fund transfers, balance inquiries, messaging. Talks are under way with Visa that will allow clients to use the cell phone just as they would a credit or debit card, but in a safer way.

Take other services that are available for some cell phone users: GrandCentral, recently bought by Google, that makes all your phones ring at once so that people do not have to hunt you down trying all of your phone numbers; SimulScribe, which turns your cell phone voicemail messages into text that arrives on your phone or to your e-mail Inbox. All these are a few glimpses of the future of digital convergence.

Why it is going to happen.

The reasons why we see convergence coming of age are threefold. First, zeroes and ones (bits and bytes making up digital media) are much cheaper than real CDs, DVDs, books, dollar banknotes or letters. Second, because the quality of digitally stored and transmitted information is superior to any physical means we know today; and third, because high speed bandwidth is becoming a commodity, and soon will be available wirelessly all over the world, for a very low cost – if at any cost at all.

Could it be possible that we will look back to the early 21st century as a turning point, just as the Renaissance was in the 15th, or the Industrial Revolution on the 18th? We just have to wait (not for long, judging by the speed with which things are moving) and see.