My thesis is provisionally entitled Live, here and now: experiences of immediate connection through social media.
My PhD project starts from the premise that even though different social media platforms might have specific organisational missions and business models, at the core of that they promise to their user base is the enhanced possibility of experiencing the social world beyond the limits of immediate time and space – and sharing these experiences with those who matter. In fact, providing access to what happens out there in the world and giving people the chance of “seeing things” in “real-time” has been the central premise of different media technologies and institutions across decades. By bringing distant events, happenings, and people into our experiential realm, mediated communications have a profoundly existential dimension.
Among wide-ranging promises of expanded access, one issue that seems to be often associated with this experiential-enhancing capacity of media is ‘the live’. Liveness – which I provisionally define as the experience of immediate connection through media – has been a persistent manifestation of media’s self-proclaimed ability to fulfil the aspiration of connection with others and with the world beyond the limits of time, of space, and of our human bodies. My project is interested in if and how liveness is experienced in everyday engagements with mainstream, habitual social media – platforms that constantly encourage senses of immediate, real-time connectedness in order to obtain the data footprints necessary to their operation.
Even though the ways in which different institutions and technologies have been strategically claiming to offer ‘live experiences’ as a means to reach their own commercial interests have already been extensively explored in the available scholarship in media and communications – particularly in the area of television studies –, the same interest and attention are yet to be dedicated to the assessment of if and how these claims are actually perceived by the ordinary people who make use of these technologies in the context of everyday life. Also, due to their naturalised, pervasive and opaque operation, social media platforms bring new layers and questions that complexify these processes even further.
Bearing this in mind, I intend to build a discussion on how users experience social media’s liveness by adopting a phenomenological sensibility. Nevertheless, I emphasise that I do not necessarily disagree with those who position liveness as a discursive construct employed by media institutions as a way of defending their commercial interests – on the contrary, I see the claims made by companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Snapchat as contemporary examples of this longstanding practice. However, I believe that focusing solely on political economy makes scholars disregard a big part of these complex and dynamic processes, by dismissing the potentially diverse ways people can sense and make sense of these promises, and, ultimately, how they are actually experienced, lived.
You can read some of my initial insights here.