LIVENESS AND DEADNESS IN SOCIAL MEDIA: ON THE PERCEIVED LACK OF LIFE OF THE INFINITE STREAM
Keywords:liveness, connection, experience, phenomenology, social media
Social media fuel a sense of constant updating to encourage uninterrupted connectivity and generate quantifiable engagement. This paper is concerned with the habitual character acquired by these platforms, and with how this is paradoxically constructed by prompting a permanent state of anticipation. The aim is to explore, with a phenomenological sensibility, the experiences that emerge in settings of continuous connectedness from the perspective of the people who use these technologies in the context of everyday life – i.e. the ‘users’. Theoretically, the entry point is to revisit the claim of liveness and to position it as a central resource in this process. Empirically, I draw from the thematic analysis of data collected through the diary-interview method with people who live in London and use a range of social media to examine both how this urge of continuous connectedness operates and the ambivalent experiences it generates. I discuss, in particular, the finding that the use of social media is often described as aimless and pointless – which means that, in a research centrally concerned with liveness (with what feels animated, pulsating, injected with life), one of the most commonly observed experiences is that of deadness, lifelessness. This lack of life of social media is described both as a result of the presence of too many potentially interesting things, and as the platforms’ incapacity to deliver anything interesting at all.