Permanently Online, Permanently Connected

In April 2017, I had the pleasure of attending a presentation given by Dr. Peter Vorderer, a German professor of media and Communication studies from the University of Mannheim. The thesis of his talk centered around the idea of "Living & Communicating in a PO/PC World," focusing on the social implications that arise from media psychology and entertainment. Vorderer's passion for exploring new media, media effects, and communication theory is infectious - here are some interesting points I gathered from his presentation. 

Trends of Media Use

Having studied patterns of using media for various purposes, such as entertainment, Vorderer presented general trends of media use that have arisen over time: 1) media use is less exclusive, 2) media content is often used "on demand," 3) young(er) users expect possibility for interactive media use, 4) young(er) users also like to use several media sources simultaneously, and 5) mass communication and interpersonal communication merge and take place almost anywhere, anytime.

Layers of Social Life

Being Permanently Online, Permanently Connected (PO/PC) is a hybrid phenomenon composed of two layers: social settings where people communicate with others who are physically present, and interactions where people communicate through technology with others who are virtually present (which in itself is also two-fold - engaging in interpersonal communication versus mass communication via virtual means).

The core of this phenomenon can be observed within social settings that involve eating with one another. In these social environments, individuals tend to straddle the physical social sphere that is before them and the digital social sphere. Interaction amongst a group of people is consistently disrupted by various members alternating turns checking into online social networks; even if members are not physically on their mobile devices, a common scene consists of individuals habitually placing their phones on the table, in their laps, or cradling them in their non-dominant hands while eating. One can even pinpoint this phenomenon when simply people-watching on the street - passerby figures texting/emailing/calling while walking, scrolling through social media newsfeeds while waiting in line, merely holding their phone at their side...

Simply put, the social dynamic of constantly sifting through hybrid layers of communicating with others present whilst interacting with others whom are not present strongly demonstrates our desire/need to not be disconnected. Picture this: whenever one is eating out with a friend or significant other, when he/she goes to use the bathroom, one instinctively checks one's phone; likewise, when the respective friend or relational partner goes to use the bathroom, he/she brings his/her phone along to check into the digital social space. Like the ocean tide, today's social dynamic consists of a constant ebb and flow of shifting between mediated environments. 

The Fear of Missing Out

Regarding causes and effects of PO/PC, one of the most fundamental reasons why PO/PC is growing is due to the human need for social relatedness (the fear of missing out). This concept is not new; rather, it is important to acknowledge that the technological dynamic of constant connectedness and having instantaneous access to information through online media is feeding and satisfying this human need for social belonging.

Ubiquity of Communication

The overall manifestation of PO/PC has created an extensive saturation of everyday life with media content and online communication. Communication never ends - individuals share a ubiquitous feeling of wanting to exhibit constant availability and connectedness with online peers. Thus, everybody keeps in touch with everybody else and everything else. Social media is now a part of the environment and is affecting individuals behaviorally and psychologically. Further research questions about PO/PC that Vorderer poses concerns how adopting specific types of media literacy can affect forms of motivation or fear in individuals, information processing, dynamics of social interactions, individual development, and socialization. 

Online time is progressively growing into a norm/default, rendering offline spaces as increasingly unusual. As inhabitants of a world that is permanently online and permanently connected, we have to make a more salient effort to be alive - to navigate both reception and communication with equivalent skill, and to use digital social spaces to leverage our time, enrich our relationships, and make worthwhile the brevity of human life.