I GIVE UP! Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Transmedia

As many have written before, ‘transmedia’ is a divisive term, laden with all manner of conflicting ideas and sometimes wielded as a political weapon by people with differing business and personal agendas.

transmedia adj.
            : delivered through more than one medium 

As many have written before, ‘transmedia’ is a divisive term, laden with all manner of conflicting ideas and sometimes wielded as a political weapon by people with differing business and personal agendas.

I recently initiated a half-day meeting for a bunch of really smart, experienced people* to get together and see what sort of consensus we could figure out about the definition of ‘transmedia’, if that was possible at all. I affectionately called the gathering “Transmedia Thunderdome” because I expected (and got) a lot of, er, feelings on the subject.

My stated agenda was simple and selfish. I wanted to help knock ‘transmedia’ out of the weird no man’s land between a confusing, academic, conceptual idea and an ill-defined format for next-generation storytelling. What for? Well, in my world, a mention of the word in a business context invariably elicits one of two reactions: 

1)   “Huh?”

2)   “Ewww.”

Generally speaking, neither of these reactions tends to accompany large transfers of money, which, for a red-blooded capitalist like me, tends to be sort of a bummer.

Anyway, there was good news and bad news about the meeting. The bad news was that NOBODY agreed on wtf the word means. The good news was that nobody agreed on wtf the word means.

Let me explain… Towards the end of the meeting, after many passionate, utterly fruitless efforts to convince one another of our separate ideas, a wily participant said, “You know the ONLY thing we all have in common is that we make stuff for more than one platform.”

For me, this moment came not as some grand epiphany, but more like a surgical pinprick to my own long-inflated balloon of ego and self-righteousness on the subject. “Oh yeah,” I thought, like a deer-in-headlights, “That makes sense…” 

This was followed by a discussion of how ‘transmedia’ can be used as an adjective instead of a noun, which is not a new idea, but in this context suddenly felt less like a theoretical point, and more like the Truth.

This solved many problems. For example, a phrase like “transmedia performance art” which used to make me throw up a little, suddenly seemed perfectly in tune with the Universe. If you’re trying to create a definition of “transmedia” that refers to a thing with specific attributes then “transmedia performance art” will cause a major case of cognitive dissonance. However, if the word itself is defined as an attribute, suddenly your marbles all find their way home.

This also explained a lot of the weird ships-passing-in-the-night conversations that I’ve heard, and been part of. These felt a lot like disagreements but were really just the ugly by-products of people trying to have a conversation where there is no common understanding of the part of speech being used. As an example, let’s try it with the word “concrete.”

Adjective Gal: “Yo, check out my concrete gargoyle, isn’t it awesome?”

Noun Guy: “Huh? Concrete is a composite building material made of aggregate and cement binder. That’s just a gargoyle!”

Adjective Gal: “But you can make ANYTHING out of concrete, stupid! Stop bringing me down with all your RULES and regulations. Next thing you know you’ll be starting a GUILD or something to regulate my creativity!”

Noun Guy: “Come on, stop being such a hippie! We need to figure out how to standardize on a definition of ‘concrete’ so we can create BUSINESSES around it and get INVESTOR money so we can displace the tree-killing lumber industry once and for all.”

Adjective Gal: “Why do we need to agree on the specifics? We should all be FREE to use concrete the way we want to!”

Noun Guy: “Then the word means NOTHING. Why even use it at all?”

Adjective Gal: “I give up! I’m going home to make a concrete blanket and take a nap.”

So, as a reformed Noun Guy, I hereby renounce my desire to define ‘transmedia’ as a specific thing at all, but will rather use it as a simple descriptor for whatever noun follows. Again, here’s the definition that I would humbly propose:

transmedia adj.
            : delivered through more than one medium

That’s it. If you love something set it free. Transmedia Sock Puppeteers rejoice!

As always, I welcome your comments below, or contact me directly at [email protected].

*Thanks to everyone who participated, and especially to Kristin and Kate from Createasphere for making it possible, Maya Zuckerman for playing Zen Cat Herder for the event, and Kurt Kennedy for doing an amazing job moderating the equivalent of an angry swarm of hornets.


Jim Stewartson