My thesis is entitled Live, here and now: experiences of immediate connection through habitual social media.
My PhD project was spurred by the belief that the development and adoption of technologies of communication has as one of its driving forces the attempt to overcome the limits of time, of space, and of our fleshly bodies – and that whatever we refer to as ‘liveness’ is perhaps one of this aspiration’s most enduring manifestations. Bearing this in mind, the project comprehends the examination of the new dimensions and attributes of ‘the live’ in the current social media environment. In this pursuit, I am not necessarily, or exclusively, interested in ‘live streaming’ platforms and applications; I consider liveness to be a vastly more complex articulation that involves institutions, technologies, and users (van Es 2016). In this scope, the ‘live’ is both about the orchestration of the experiential and the continuous quest for authenticity, presence, shared experience and immediacy in contexts marked precisely by mediation. It is, then, the productively contradictory experience of immediate connection through media.
In this project, I am adhering to a critical-phenomenological perspective. This presupposes a focus on perceptual processes to examine and interrogate the very structures of lived experience, whilst paying attention to the social, technical, economic, and political forces that drive the development of social media. In this critical phenomenology of mediation, liveness is treated in different moments as either the object of enquiry or as the analytical, sensitising device for the discussion of the experiential opportunities afforded and constrained by ubiquitous communication technologies. In order to support an empirical analysis centred on ordinary experiences, the theoretical framework combines key concepts from the phenomenological tradition and current contributions from emerging areas of scholarship such as platform and critical algorithm studies. I examine social media by deploying some of the organising principles of phenomenology – temporality, spatiality, embodiment, and intersubjectivity – as anchoring points. In doing so, I posit that liveness is not only a paradigmatic topic for phenomenological inquiry when it comes to mediated experiences, but also that in focusing on ‘the live’ the core themes of this philosophical stream become observable in the multifarious experiences people have with and of social media in the context of everyday life.
The methodological stages for the project consisted of eliciting accounts of concrete lived experience, organising these accounts into themes that elucidate the questions of interest, and then presenting these themes in a detailed, evocative narrative, from which I draw conclusions. I analysed thematically qualitative data gathered through the diary-interview method, conducted with London-based social media users. The centring of liveness as both an object of study and as an analytical device is then translated in focusing on four existential quests as enacted through technical mediation, which in turn inform the four empirical chapters. They are: the ‘real-time’ experience, the experience of ‘being there’, ‘getting involved in a shared experience’, and the ‘authentic’ experience.
Whereas much of the scholarship on liveness is interested in special occasions, routine disruptions, and extraordinary media events, this thesis is focused precisely on trivial occurrences, habitual routinisation, and ordinary settings. My interest lies at the intersection of ongoing philosophical, transcendental issues and their enactment and negotiation in the mundanity of everyday life. Indeed, one of the foundational arguments that traverses the theoretical and empirical chapters of my thesis is the idea that liveness helps social media to construct and maintain their ordinariness.