Blog post#4: Do you feel connected?

Ambient awareness is the experience of knowing what’s going on in the lives of other people — what they’re thinking about, what they’re doing, what they’re looking at — by paying attention to the small stray status messages that people are putting online.’ –Clive Thompson

I recently came across an article by Clive Thompson called Brave New World of Digital Intimacy.  In the article, he talks about the rise of social media and how little pieces of information, when taken together over time, can make us feel like we are close to people without actually communicating with them one on one.  In the past, this type of experience wasn`t possible because no one would bother to phone their friends and family to talk to them about the daily minutiae of their life (and friends and family wouldn`t necessarily want to hear those apparently insignificant and mundane bits of information—e.g. ‘Waiting at the bus stop and it`s freezing cold!’).  However, with social media, you can broadcast the details of your life to friends and family and they can tune in (or tune out) whenever they choose.

Some argue that there are a number of benefits to this change in the way we communicate and interact with others.  For starters, all this constant updating and broadcasting is creating a culture of people who know much more about themselves.  The social media users Thompson interviewed allowed him to see that ‘the act of stopping several times a day to observe what you’re feeling or thinking can become, after weeks and weeks, a sort of philosophical act.’ Essentially, users become more mindful of what they are doing and, as they disclose more information about themselves and their lives, begin to wonder about how others may react to that information.

Some also argue that it improves one-on-one time because conversations can become more focused: you spend less time on idle chit chat because you’ve checked out their social media profiles and updates and can move the conversation more quickly to the next level.

The downside to this however, is that some social media users can begin to develop parasocial relationships instead of deep social relationships.  Parasocial relationships are the types of relationships we develop with fictional characters, like those on TV shows or in books (e.g. Twilight saga or Fifty Shades of Grey), or with remote celebrities we read about in magazines (e.g. Justin Beiber`s YouTube Channel).  Since social media allows us to observe  the lives of other people without necessarily being involved, we can develop relationships that are nearly parasocial—we know a lot about the lives of other people in our network, but they don`t nearly know as much about our life; we feel connected to them, but they may not.  Parasocial relationships can quickly eat up our time and emotional energy as well as crowd out real-life people (i.e. we never really go offline and engage in one-on-one conversations).  Face-time with people in real-life is important to developing deep social relationships.

Another downside is that other people may begin broadcasting information about you.  This is referred to as the revival of small-town dynamics, where everybody knows your business.  This was actually the way things were for most of human history.  Drifting from town to town and relationship to relationship is actually a very modern phenomenon.  So, just like you have to manage your reputation in a small-town, you have to manage your brand or persona online.

The take home message: think about why you want to be present online and remember that when you reach out and create content for others—or as Eric Qualman suggests: learn how to behave correctly in this newly opened society.

3 thoughts on “Blog post#4: Do you feel connected?

  1. Thank you for this very insightful post. It really made me think about how I act online and if I need to change some aspects. At first, I totally embraced social media, but now, I’m very cautious about what I post. It is like I’m going against the current and becoming more “old school” where I do not want to share all my thoughts and feelings with the rest of the world. Secrets! I am trying really hard to avoid the small village mentality and I hope that by acting a certain way, my friends will pick up the same good habits. It is really hard to stand against the current and be questioned for doing so.

  2. I feel connected. Particularly to your blog which I enjoyed immensely. Clive Thompson’s quote can be easily applied to small-town life past and present. There’s a story I always tell about my first encounter with rural life. Having grown-up in Toronto, the anonymity of city life was deeply entrenched in my psyche (even without me realizing it since it was the only thing I’d ever known) so it came as quite a shock to me when I traveled to Bancroft (pop. 2500) in search of a safe place to raise my children. My husband and I drove the 2 hours on a Saturday, viewed 3 prospective rental properties (to house us while we built a home on land we were soon to purchase), chose one, left a deposit then went to Canadian Tire to buy a mailbox to affix to the vacant post at the end of the driveway. We didn’t bother with the lettering given that we weren’t moving in for another month then drove back to Toronto feeling accomplished. Monday morning I phoned the local post office and said “I’d like to arrange for mail delivery effective next month” “where do you live?” was the reply “5 kms north of the town on highway 62” I said, “just a minute, I will get the carrier” two minutes passed and then words that sent my brain screaming for cover came from the receiver: “Mrs Bay?” At no point had I identified myself or the address I was moving to and less than 48 hours had passed since we put an empty box on a pole. I was mortified. It was like a creepy horror film come to life. People knew what I was doing practically before I knew what I was doing. Well that was 1989 and eventually I got used to the mentality and habits of small-town living. Unlike the early Facebook users in Thompson’s article whose “worries about their privacy seemed to vanish within days” mine didn’t, but I accepted it in the absence of a choice. One day a local politician came into my store and said “well, it’s 10 o’clock in the morning and I haven’t heard any juicy gossip yet, it’s time to make something up” and I realized that that truly was what made small towns tick. Knowing what/when/where/why and to whom things were happening. It wasn’t necessary to have a twitter post tell you who you could join at the pub, you just drove by and saw whose cars were there when you left work. You didn’t need to read facebook to know who got drunk, you just saw whose car was there in the morning. You didn’t need the school to call to say your kid cut class or was misbehaving, someone had already reported to you that they’d been spotted downtown. You do know every nuance of your neighbours lives whether you want to or not and the relationships are deep and real. The giant difference for social media in a rural environment is that facebook allow us to be our own grapevines. The position of town gossip is no longer required. We all supply the information freely and fully without the back-stabbing whispering that used to fuel the gossip train. Essentially we all live in our own homemade village and we choose the residents we want to live there with us.The tid-bits of cumulative daily information in our parasocial relationships are exactly the same as the ever popular soap opera episodes people have tuned into for years. Personally this was something I could never watch. So in consideration of your take home message: why, if I never liked soap-operas and always craved the return of anonymity, am I a social media junkie with membership in every network? If I gained nothing else, at least I have had the small-town grooming to behave correctly in the newly opened society. Perhaps this is the beginning of my philosophical self-awareness….in my new city life where I embrace the comfort of anonymity.

  3. Great job! I Think that if we fall too deep into this world of social media we may end up feeling more disconnected than ever. While i love social media and believe that it will continue to progress in the future, it does, like everything have a life span which may end sooner or later. When it’s all over, and there is no one to like your detailed emotional Facebook post you may feel alone and isolated.In my opinion, i feel disconnected when my whole life is a well organized set of edited photos or corrected words, i miss reality and failing and trials…these are the things that make life, life and i do not want to miss out on them.

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