I have come to the realization that the relationship that I have with my phone is, well, complicated and perhaps verging on the intense side. The ‘ah-ha” moment came during my family’s Easter brunch after my sister was offended by my perfectly normal phone-use behavior. I sat down with my plate of deliciousness and instinctively pulled out my phone to take picture (yes, I am one of those people). My sister, already settled at the table, immediately had a conniption, “why do you always have you phone?! It’s so rude!” Now, being the youngest of four, I am used to being berated by my older siblings, but my sister had a point; why am I so attached to my phone?
Since the Easter incident, I’ve been trying to answer the question of why we all have experienced that mild to moderate panic attack when our phone is misplaced or checking it compulsively every five minutes. I have always thought and analyzed through theoretical frameworks, solidified as sociology-anthropology major; so that’s how I’ve managed to explain it. Three central theories and concepts help to shed light on why deck-of-cards-sized electronic device has become a member of my family. Or a fifth appendage. Bear with me; I am about to get a little academic.
It Means Something to Me - Symbolic Interactionism:
Symbolic Interactionism (SI) was coined by George Herbert Mead and expanded by Herbert Blumer. Essentially, SI posits that humans and objects have attributed meaning that is derived through interactions (Source - Wiki). These meanings vary from individual to individual and, according to SI, are ordered hierarchically for each of us.
“Humans act towards objects (including the self) in terms of the meaning of those objects.” (Pg. 6) Certain objects, if they allow us to achieve a certain end, will have greater significance and meaning to us (Pg.12). This is where my phone fits in; it is a means to an end. It is not necessarily the device itself that has significance, but rather what it enables me to do and who it connects me to. It is a nexus of interaction for me, that meaning-producing catalyst, that not only is important to my construction of self, but also how that self is validated and expanded through the interactions with others on this device. And this thinking took me to one of my favorite sociologist and Interactionists, Erving Goffman
I Have Performance Anxiety - Dramaturgical Concept:
According to Goffman’s dramaturgical concept, the social world is massive performance based around the expression of self and the desired (or undesired) impression of others. His lasting idea is that we alter out behavior depending on the impression we would like to have (a bit evil mastermind, I know). Now, I am not implying that I consciously use my phone as some sort of mind control device, but rather view it as another ‘stage;’ It is a location of performance. I am a fairly avid tweeter and Instagrammer, both of which are types of performances that I typically (or solely in the case of the latter) engage with on my phone.
The phone itself, as I mentioned before, becomes a tool, but in this case to regulate, manage and maintain my identity and the impressions others may have of that identity. Again, this sounds a little evil mastermind, but it is not exactly a conscious process. I do not consider what I am doing as ‘impression management,’ but rather after taking a theoretical lens to it, that is what my behavior can be interpreted as. In that vein, my phone, with all that lives within it, is vital to that process.
This brings me to the question of need and outside the sociological world and into psychology.
I Just Need It, Ok? Maslow’s Needs:
(image from Wikipedia)
Maybe you’re familiar with that colorful pyramid and maybe you are not; basically, as each level of our needs is met, we work towards achieving, and are now able to do so, the next level. So, if I can breath, am well-fed, have a home and a job, a routine and no one is trying to kill me or chew my face off (this is a legitimate concern), I am motivated to seek “love and belonging”, followed by “esteem” and, finally, “self-actualization.” Now where does my iPhone come into this equation? It does not exactly play into my physiological and safety needs (though some could argue it does), but it, again, acts as means to achieving an end.
Take love and belonging and esteem for example. Both rely heavily on interactions (remember how important those are?), which my phone enables me to do. For example, I have friends and a family, but I am not always with them; my family is in Boston, Chicago, and Germany and friends are smattered throughout the country, but my phone enables me to text, talk and even see these people if I want. So, it fulfills a need. When it comes to esteem, achieving self-esteem, confidence and respect, is not thing something that my phone alone with do for me. Going back to Goffman and SI, the tools and services within that phone are means to the end. Of course a lot will have happen away from my phone, but in a lot of ways, given how I engage online, my phone contributes to it (hence why I have a mild erythema when I can’t find it).
So, after all of this, where did I end up? Like my thumb, it’s a tool I would be lost without. I might be giving my phone too much credit, after all, it is not necessarily the phone itself, but rather what it connects me to. Although is there really a difference? Not really.
After going through SI, Goffman, and Maslow, I’ve come to see my phone as a facilitator of interactions; interactions that I draw meaning and identity from and needs met through. From SI, the interactions I have within it make it meaningful; from Goffman, I express myself and impress upon others through it; from Maslow, it helps me meet my needs, everyday. All three of things help me to construct some from of an identity and, as much as I hate to admit it, my phone is a part of that.
So, yes, I will keep it within reach (if not in my hand), I may check it a little too often for your liking and I might snap a picture of a meal or two. It’s just who I am.
Originally posted on Moment’s Blog
Returning from SXSW Interactive this year, there was a single thought that kept nagging me: ambient technology. From haptic compasses, geo-fences to NFC-based payment systems, we want our technology to move from something that we control in the forefront to something that we do not have to even think about. Although this is somewhat organic, maybe even expected, technological evolution, is it one that we should continue on at the pace we are?
Are we, as a culture, as a group of individuals, ready for this type of massive change? In my opinion no, we’re not. What are the sociological implications, psychological and physiological implications? Basically are we putting technological advancements before people?
Of course these are things that we consider as we advance, but that does not mean that we can answer that first question, are we actually ready. The base of it is emotional; it is a matter of evolving the collective and individual emotions and relationships with these technologies before there is widespread acceptance or even the desire for them. Our identities are adapting and changing to include devices, networks, and interactions. This web-enabled is something that we would give up showering for apparently (I for one, will take the shower thank you). This is even outside the argument of whether or not internet access is a human right (the UN says it is).
It has come down to the web, the interconnected world that we now take with us everywhere. We’ve all gotten wrapped up in the momentum, the tidal wave, which has taken over our daily lives, but we’re missing the cultural implications and, more importantly, the potential for a backlash.
The web and our hyperconnected devices and lives have become used to openness, sharing. The cultural norms we swim among on a daily basis are changing, but that does not mean that we, human beings, have as well. That is where the potential for backlash is. Now more and more openness, innovation, disruption and change are valued; however, can we accept that when it comes to our personal lives? Our information? Our ‘human data?’
Look at the recent slew of privacy scares and revolts, from Path to Google. The backlash has already begun. We want transparency, openness, but with control. The infinite knowledge on the web empowered us, but we weren’t aware of just how much information we were imparting on the digital world and the companies at the helm. In the same logic then, how can we be ready to accept ambient technologies such as haptic compasses, geo-tag fences, brain-wave controlled devices?
In her keynote at SXSW Interactive this year, Amber Case said that our devices are taking us away from the physical world around us; we’re too wrapped up in the little screens and worlds in the palms of our hands. I completely agree that we are, but by putting technology into the background, enabling it to do the thinking for us might not be the right solution, at least right now.
I could not agree more with Jenny. Abstention is a dangerous game when it comes social inclusion, especially looking at small groups of individuals across a digital and physical space. Perhaps the most salient point made here is there is the digital and physical divide is eroding when it comes to interactions, emotional connections and relationships. Looking at a small group of people, for example on Twitter, it is one thing to be a part of a ‘twitter group’ with various online rituals, but that does not fulfill all the emotional requirements to form a lasting and meaningful bond; there needs to be a real-world interaction.
I think that this is particularly interesting point to consider when we start thinking about how the social space is evolving and how to create meaningful relationships that carry across the digital and physical worlds, slowly coming to a point where there is almost no distinction. There are not only implications here for individuals and groups, but for the brands as well; what could this mean for brands trying to create true, positive relationships with customers? Is there a way for brands to ‘get in on’ this type of relationship building with consumers?
The manufactured self and core self are not mutually exclusive; one actually cannot live without the other, but one is visceral and innate and the other highly monitored and selective. It’s sort of like Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One is in control; the outwardly respected and accepted doctor while the other is all raw emotions (negative ones mind you but still). That’s the same with us and how we share online or how we don’t share.
Lexie Kier and I were chatting over coffee this past weekend when the topic of google and privacy came up. Foursquare’s Radar feature came into the mix and we wondered if people would ever be ok with full disclosure. We both instantly said no.
We are not comfortable with that idea yet; we still need to monitor our manufactured, outward selves and protect our core. So then what about all those social apps? Millions use them so we must be ok with it. Well, not exactly. There’s a spectrum. So lexie and I mapped it out. What apps cater to the manufactured self and which to the core?
This is where we ended up.
Is the web and ‘cyberspace’ really separate from reality? Why would we separate these relationships when that in fact destroys the relationships that we build online? Devaluing them?
I think that it is an interesting concept that PJ Rey wrestles with, but I feel like there is something missing from his argument: emotion. Getting too caught up in the semantics of what we call the web space and the physical space attributes too much meaning to the nomenclature and not enough to the emotions behind it. I agree that the web is now an integral part of our cultural fabric, but it’s important to understand to emotional motivations behind not only integrating into the wider culture, but also into our social emotions. Why do we call it cyberspace? Why do you we still separate our digital life from our physical life? We are not ready to merge them.
It’s like conditioning, exposing us bit by bit to the normalcy and interconnectedness of our digital and analog worlds; however, unlike Rey, I can’t agree with the fact that we need to see the digital and physical as the same things. This will take much more time for that sort of merge to take place, become a norm and become socially and emotionally acceptable. That merge challenges the core of our individual identities and discounting that is dangerous.
“This cultural movement to characterize the Web through the fantasy of cyberspace does violence to the very real social relationships that flow on and off the Web; it posits them as otherworldly and, as such, inessential to our lives.
Why is it, then, that we are so prone to denial and self-deception when it comes to the role that the Web plays in our culture? I believe that accepting the Web as integral to the fabric of reality threatens comfortable assumptions about our natures, about the essence of the self and its authenticity, and about our romantic conceptualization of the human soul. If the Web is enmeshed in every aspect of human life and we accept that the Web is real, then we must conclude that every aspect of our lives are synthetic—that nothing is “real” in Baudrillard’s romantic conceptualization of the term. McLuhan once presented just such a vision in televised debate:
‘Whenever a new environment goes around an old one there’s always new terror… When you put a man-made environment around the planet, nature from now on has to be programmed… the [new man-made] environment is not visible, it’s electronic.’”