Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Phatic Culture and Youth

I was intrigued by Miller's article about new media and "phatic culture," in particular when considering how youth communicate with each other in modern society. Especially Miller's caution that phatic communication is more than just saying a lot without meaning anything at all: "One should not assume that these phatic communications are 'meaningless,' in fact, in many ways they are very meaningful, and imply the recognition, intimacy and sociability in which a strong sense of community is founded. Phatic messages potentially carry a lot more weight to them than the content itself suggests. [...] The overall result is that in phatic media culture, content is not king, but 'keeping in touch' is" (p. 539).

For those of you who have children, younger siblings or relatives, you may agree with me when I say that I often feel perplexed by what I see youth posting on Facebook and Twitter. I am a mentor to an eleven year-old girl (I don't have any children and no younger relatives so this relationship sums up my contact with the current tween society) and 91% of what she posts on her Facebook wall reads to me like meaningless crap. After reading Miller's article however, (especially the quote mentioned above), a light bulb went off in my head.  I have been toying with the idea lately of bringing up the nature (or lack thereof) of what she posts on her Facebook wall (not to accuse her but rather to try to make sense of it all), but good ol' Malinowski and Miller reminded me that there could be more meaning attached to the random utterances she posts than I can see. In her eleven-year old world where Facebook appears to be a primary method of asserting oneself among one's peers, just posting something, anything at all, seems to be a way of saying "yes, I'm still here" and responding (whether by emoticon or "like" or any other manner of response) seems to be a way of saying "I am also still here and we are friends." Below is an example of one of her recent posts:
(Censored to protect the innocent!) Regardless, I wonder if networked society has encouraged phatic language to become more commonplace or are we just more aware of it now because it seems to dominate the realms of social network communication?

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I just had an old acquaintance (who I actually knew in real life before we became Facebook friends - ha!) post this interesting tirade of disenchantment with the values that Facebook perpetuates: (WARNING, SALTY LANGUAGE AHEAD!)

I have had many friends attempt to "leave" Facebook before only to be successful and ultimately come crawling back in their shame for the desire to stay "connected." Going back to subject of phatic culture, what about those who promote a backlash against it (such as my acquaintance above who could have gotten out what he wanted to say with much less verbiage). Will phatic culture win out, and less words and less meaningful social exchanges and relationships become more, or will there be growing discontent with phatic exchanges? 

March 26, 2012: As an update to my previous post, the Facebook acquaintance mentioned above finally decided to post this (less than a week after he wrote the rant about abandoning Facebook for good) "After further consideration I am going to just turn my facebook account onto "low". I'll be here, but I won't be present very often, if you need to get in touch with me, please email me, skype me, or call me. thx-RWR"

On thing this whole situation has caused me to ponder is, what will be the "next big thing" when Facebook fades away? In the U.S., so many people's lives are so heavily invested in Facebook that I wonder what could come next that would surpass and overtake Facebook?

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