Microcoordination 2.0

Ling, Rich and Chih-Hui Lai 2016. Microcoordination 2.0: Social Coordination in the Age of Smartphones and Messaging Apps. Journal of Communication 66(5): 834-856.

By using the particular app, we are, in a sense, signaling our embrace of our mediated social sphere. This, however, is not simply a gesture of solidarity. Our friends and colleagues can demand it of us. Indeed, a particular mobile messaging app can become structured into the flux of interactions since it is the venue where important information from friends, a social group, or even clubs or sporting activities is diffused. If we do not use the appropriate app, we become problematic for others since extra effort is needed to include us in group activities (Ling, 2012). (Ling & Lai 2016: 2)

The exact reason why I started using Facebook and Telegram. First peer pressure to embrace the mediated social sphere and then further peer pressure to avoid the dubious privacy policies of Facebook.

Earlier forms of microcoordination were dyadic (calls, SMS). By contrast messaging apps are multisided forums. This development brings several new issues of interest for communication scholars. First, expressive interaction has a more central role in managing mediated group dynamics when compared with the dyadic interaction of the earlier mobile communication regime. Second, this form of interaction facilitates what we call ambient-mediated sociation, namely that our social group, and not just individual communication partners, are always available. (Ling & Lai 2016: 2)

I assume the first can be traced to the fact that calls and SMS had service costs while mobile apps are free. And the second has to do with the ubiquity of mobile computing nowadays. We don't "go online" anymore, we now live here.

Calhoun drew on Webber (1963), who established the idea that people do not need to be continually copresent to establish a community. However, according to Calhoun, Webber did not fully develop the notion of community. Indeed, Calhoun's essays are an effort to address that issue by developing a taxonomy of interpersonal interaction that includes intimate/primary, secondary, and remote interactions. In Calhoun's words, a primary relationship must be directly interpersonal and involve "the whole person" (Calhoun, 1987, p. 332); a realm in which he felt that electronic communication would be "a useful supplement" (Calhoun, 1998, p. 379). The second level, while less socially immersive, also involves a combination of copresent interaction, but with people who are more socially removed. He suggests that it is the tertiary interactions that are likely to come under the purview of digitalization. (Ling & Lai 2016: 3)

How are these different from Granovetter's (1973) strong, weak, and negligible ties?

Although it has lost its earlier position, IM was widely used in supporting informal communication in different interpersonal, group, and organizational contexts, as well as teamwork and coordination efforts related to formal communication (Starbird & Palen, 2013). (Ling & Lai 2016: 5)

Phatic communion in the service of informative or practical communication.

In addition to the multisided dimensions of messaging apps, they often have the ability to show the presence (Milewski & Smith, 2000) of other users, as well as whether they have "seen" or read messages through the use of "read receipts." Church and de Oliveira (2013) find that this functionality is viewed both positively and negatively. On the one hand, presence functionality alerts people to when others are potentially available. On the negative side there is a privacy issue. Read receipts can also play into the dynamics of the interaction, encouraging people to cultivate an image of being responsive (Tyler & Tang, 2003). (Ling & Lai 2016: 5)

I've seen one instance of someone pointing out that this is essentially the literal channel operation of Jakobson's phatic function: checking whether the channel works and messages go through.

The development of multiparty coordination brings with it a range of issues that the interlocutors need to work out. Is there, for example, agreement as to whether the group chat is a task-oriented forum or one that is more for phatic social interaction? If it is goal-oriented, is there a formal role structure and formal membership requirements, for example, a dues-paying member of the volleyball team? Indeed, in some cases group chats are the communication channel for such quasiformal groups. Are the dynamics of interaction shaped by the status or perhaps the charisma of individuals, or by mutual nonhierarchical respect among the members? (Ling & Lai 2016: 6)

Task-oriented meaning "practical" in old lingo. Curiously, "phatic social interaction" captures three synonymous coinages: Malinowski termed it phatic communion, I. A. Richards called it the social function of language, and M.A.K. Halliday the interaction function.

Different channels are used for different audiences in part due to the social norms associated with the use of these channels in respondents' social context. E-mail is used for more socially distant contacts (e.g., professors), SMS for closer connections, and messaging apps like WhatsApp for the broad group of contacts that range from close friends to fellow members of various activities. All these different groups are available via the smartphone. (Ling & Lai 2016: 9)

A truism, though it's just a tad bit odd to call these "channels", which is very general and technical.

The person forming a group usually approaches eventual members and asks them to join. For their part, the person being asked can use a repertoire of techniques to avoid participating. Further, their reluctance to participate is not necessarily common knowledge. Following from the comments of Madelyn and Janet, these elements of solicitation, negotiation, and the strategems of demurral are largely absent in mobile chat groups. The ease of establishing a group makes it difficult for group members to maintain the facade of a loyal group member when there are such complicating issues. (Ling & Lai 2016: 16)

Minus-phatics: anti-social techniques.


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