Phatic Gesture

Schandorf, Michael 2012. Mediated gesture: Paralinguistic communication and phatic text. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 19(3): 319-344.

Digital and social media text is conversational text that fulfills the phatic needs of typical social interaction: 'keeping in touch" does not in any way constitute a cultural regression but represents the fundamental ground of human cognition, which is inescapably both social and technologically dependent. (Schandorf 2012: 319)
So this is written contra Vincent Miller? The part about social media text being conversational also makes sense in a manner this author probably didn't intend: in this blog I am quoting and commenting but the format is that of a conversation. The quotes enact the role of the communication partner, and I respond, although the author of the text cannot respond (it is up to the text to supply a tentative response - as when my comment contains an idea that the next paragraph in the text actually does discuss).
Despite early techno-utopian visions of virtually embodied interactions in virtual worlds, the wide accessibility of mobile phones and VoIP technologies, the popularization of video conferencing (e.g. Skype) and the most recent availability of mobile video communications (e.g. Apple's Facetime), most digital media communication remains firmly text-based. Computer-mediated communication began with text messaging and, as the recent spate of digital culture doomsayers are quick to remind us, it has not lost its roots. To take a recent example, Sherry Turkele's Alone Together (2011), the Lonely Crowd for the 21st century, points out, yet again, the growing propensity of text instead of talk, and the inherent inadequacy of rapid-fire, decontextualized messages compared with sustained, semantically and emotionally rich face-to-face interaction. (Schandorf 2012: 319-320)
B-but face-to-face interaction and even VoIP are more focused, time-consuming, and fatigueing than sending an e-mail or leaving a quick message in Facebook chat.
The performance of identity is, in fact, the primary affordance of social media, which allows participants to 'validate and engage with others' (boyd et al. 2010) generating a widely dispersed intersubjectivity (Crawford 2009) through active audience construction (Marwick and boyd 2011) to build a 'faceted identity' (boyd 2001). (Schandorf 2012: 320)
That is, you can select who receives your messages. which without phatic technologies would have been difficult if not impossible in present scale (in an actual crowd you can't control who hears your speech, and sending a written message on paper out to dozens of people is time-consuming and expensive).
The mediated/embodied binary underlying the worrying of 'shallow' new and social media is a false dichotomy. All communication is embodied as all cognition is embodied. (Schandorf 2012: 321)
I would still hold that the distinction is valid. Unlike oral and bodily communication, mediated communication can be intercepted, manipulated or transformed. No-one can pretend to be me in real life without extensive auditioning for body type, applying a lot of make-up and teaching my mannerisms, but it's not all that difficult to hijack my online accounts and take actions under my username. Embodied communication is always authentic or genuine in this minimal sense, but mediated communication is not.
Papacharissi argues that 'Given the level of control over verbal and non-verbal cues in a variety of online conetxts, individuals may put together controlled performances that "give off" exactly the "face" that they intend' (2009: 210). (Schandorf 2012: 321)
Exactly what I mean. Reinventing one's offline self is a lot of work (i.e. joining a gym, eating healthy, going out and making new friends and acquaintances, etc.) but reinventing one's online self is a matter of creating a new account or updating one's profile.
for Carrie Noland (2009, relying on Massumi, 2003), what makes an act a 'gesture' is the involvement of the body in a double process of active (muscular) displacement and (sensory) information gathering: we send information as we receive information; we enact our spaces of communication (Lefebvre 1991), our cognitive and cultural environments. (Schandorf 2012: 322)
"Latin gestus, a masculine noun derived from the verb gerere (meaning to carry or to bear), refers to physical bearing or body movement."
The use of more conventionally paralinguistic forms in digital and social media communications have been previously addressed as mediated forms of 'emotional graaming' (Ling et al., 2005) that function as 'phatic fillers and backchanneling [...] employed in a similar way to FTF conversations' (Quan-Haase 2009: 39; citing Herring 1999b; see also Baron 2004; Schandorf 2011). (Schandorf 2012: 324)
Here "phatic" could very well be replaced with "meaningless" and the effect would be the same.
Retweets (RTs) point back to the original source of a message, while also (like all forms of indication) implicitly pointing to the person doing the RTing and making explicit a connection between two interactants, however loose. (Schandorf 2012: 325)
This reminds me of a passage from an article about the recent school shooting in Oregon: "Officials found a document written by the shooter that "tracked the often desperate and depressed writings from members of a loosely affiliated group ... members associated with the group share profound disappointment with their lots in life and the lack of meaningful relationships." What they mean is that the shooter visited 4chan, an anonymous image board, and the authors of that article consider it a loosely affiliated group. There's not much looser you can get when the group is constituted by visiting the same website.
More broadly, avatars (by, for example, drawing attention to specific phenomena, cultural references, or corporate/collective identities) and Facebook gestures (e.g. 'Like', 'Poke') can be understood as deictic gestures calling attention to the one doing the 'poking' as much as to what is 'liked'. (Schandorf 2012: 325)
The truly phatic aspect here is not drawing attention to the one doing the poking (emotive) nor to what is liked (referential) but the the act of poking itself. Essentially, it is drawing attention to the fact of drawing attention.
The basic format of a tweet is, arguably, a link and a brief contextualizing comment. The deictic aspects instantiate a set of relations between the 'tweeter', the 'tweeted', and the potential audience of followers. (Schandorf 2012: 325)
instantiate: represent as or by an instance - isn't this the same idea? By re-tweeting someone's tweet you're representing by an instance of retweeting that you re-tweet this particular tweeters' tweet? By "a set of relations" it points to the fact that there may be other, non-re-tweeting, forms of relationships between the tweeter and re-tweeter.
To date, only a few 'tweet typologies' have been published, and while those available (e.g. Honeycutt and Herring 2009; Mischaud 2007; Naaman et al. 2010; Oulasvirta et al. 2009) vary widely, they have several commonalities. Common categories include greetings, weather, small talk, emotion, and meta-commentary, among others. These are immediately recognizable as categories of phatic communication, and the phatic character of social media has been noted by others (Miller 2008; Parks 2010; Stankovic 2009; Stankovic et al. 2010). (Schandorf 2012: 334)
Emotios is emotive; meta-commentary is cognitive-referential. References:
  • Parks, M. R. 2010. Social network sites as virtual communities. In: Papacharissi, Z. (ed.), A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites. London: Routledge, 105-123. [TÜR]
  • Stankovic, M. 2009. Faceted online presence: A semantic web approach. Unpublished masters thesis, Universite Paris-Sud, Orsay, France.
  • Stankovic, M.; A. Passant and P. Laublet 2009. Directing status messages to their audience in online communities. Pre-proceedings of Coordination, Organization, Institutions and Norms Workshop. Torino, Italy September 7-11.
Parks argues that 'For online settings such as social networking sites, the most relevant [...] requirements are engaging in shared rituals, social regulation, and collective action through patterned interaction and the creation of relational linkages among members that promote social bonds, a sense of belonging, and a sense of identification with the community' (Parks 2010: 111). (Schandorf 2012: 334)
It seems like Parks is dealing with the phatic community aspect Laver hints towards and Blanco treats lightly. Tartu University has the collection, A Networked Self, wherein Parker's paper is published, but it is lent out until mid-January.
The emphasis on what the Oxford English Dictionary describes as communication 'that serve[s] to establish or maintain social relationships rather than to impart information, communicate ideas, etc.' has led many scholars subject to the high-culture bias of writing (e.g. logocentrism) to understand phatic communication as trivial. Miller, for example, argues that 'in phatic media culture, content is not king, but "keeping in touch" is', and that this represents a worrying dilution of culture and society (2008: 395).
But there is a strong argument to be made that phatic functions influence all social interaction and are fundamental to human communication generally. As Zeyney Tufekci argues, 'that's what humans do' (Tufecki 2011). (Schandorf 2012: 334)
That's the Jakobsonian definition in the OED, and carries a pejorative connotation. The phatic necessity is more akin to La Barre's understanding, but he is usually not included in contemporary phatic studies (Wang et al. is an exception but even they probably stumbled upon him because the words "phatic" and "technology" appearod on the same page in La Barre's book).
But the importance of the emotional identification (or repulsion) enacted in phatic communication runs even deeper because the 'rational' thought and language production that defines human being is based on and grounded in emotion (Damasio 1994; 2003; Ramachandran 2011; Ramachandran & Blakeslee 1998). (Schandorf 2012: 335)
It's that word again (identification), but nothing significant is detailed here about it.
Gesture is the way we enact our identities, the way we think [of] our selves. It is the embodiment of our attitudes and our negotiated assumptions and expectations of our social environments. And if gesture is phatic communication, and new media communication is gestural, then the phatic communion of ambient co-presence is 'the way we interact, and the way we feel each other out there in the realm of the World Wide Web' (Stankovic 2009: 1). (Schandorf 2012: 336)
I'm not so sure about these propositions.
Where early electronic communication technologies such as the telephone and television, combined with transportation technologies such as automobiles and airplanes, centrifugally extended our communities and social networks while geographically dispersing them (Carey 1992; Innis 1950; 1951), new mobile internet communication technologies are generating a centripetal effect that is drawing us all closer together into a variety of overlapping digital 'spaces'. At the same time, 'augmented reality' technologies that combine digital imaging and motion capture with the search and database capabilities of the internet, are overlaying digital 'spaces' upon our physical environments. (Schandorf 2012: 336)
Neat contrast, though.
We currently inhabit an interesting transitional moment in the dynamic evolution of communication technologies, which continue to shape us, individually and socially, as we shape them, through both production and use. (Schandorf 2012: 336)
What is phatic technological habituation?
In his foreword to the book [Rotman, Brian 2008. Becoming Beside Ourselves], Timothy Lenoir writes, 'Not only is thinking always social, culturally situated, and technologically mediated, but individual cognition requires symbiosis with cognitive collectivities and external memory systems to happen in the first place' (Lenoir 2009: xxvii). (Schandorf 2012: 337)
Peirce (thought is social) + Lotman (culture is memory).
In the 'ambient co-presence' of networked digital communications technologies, the compressed, extensive, paralinguistic emotional connections of phatic gesture are embodied in new forms afforded by the new ways of 'keeping in touch' that are appropriate to the distributed, networked agency made possible by these environments. (Schandorf 2012: 338)
And the term "phatic text" doesn't appear anywhere in this article besides the title.


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