Bias of Communication: Confessions Last Forever

Careful what you write online, it will come back to haunt you.  In a society that places demands on communication through social media, we are often encouraged to share our lives with each other.  Where has this trend developed and why has it developed?  I aim to explore how this culture of exposure has emerged and the repercussions it has for online users who ignore the permanence afforded to new media technologies today.

One of the most fundamental aspects that have help to build and maintain society is communication, the spread of information.  This relationship can be traced historically, from cave paintings to the printing press, from television to the Internet, with each medium offering a distinct method of communication that shapes culture.  Historian H.A. Innis suggests, “A medium of communication was either concerned with a preservation of information (time biased) or capacity for wide distribution (space-biased)” and this holds true for most of history, emerging new media technologies afford both a space and time biased form of communication (Burnett and Marshal 13).

With the increase of digital technologies, consumers have more access to social media sites now more than ever.  Cell phones, computers and tablets have changed the culture of communication by giving us “this ability to mediate contact whenever and wherever we find ourselves… We have, in effect two front states upon which to act,” (Ling 169).   At first, maintaining social ties through mediated technologies wasn’t too demanding but it yielded a culture that continually grew into itself and soon what became important was not the strength of social activity but the amount.  What followed was a preference for loose friendship ties, larger social networks and quick, easy socializing.  This switch in communication expectations has lead to the creation and expression of phatic culture.

Phatic culture detracts from other the dialogue format of traditional communication in place of communication based on content and not information.  If the social networks that individuals have are loose and they must satisfy a seemingly large “social” circle then what better way than to “encourage communication that retains a sociability without the exchange of real information,” and what takes this place is personal content about someone’s life (Miller 395).  Nowadays social media sites are riddled with posts about what food you just ate, which person you were with, or how you feel about a politician.  Lets ignore the obvious question of why people do this and focus more on why we allow people to do this.


via Flickr

Sharing one’s life through social media became commonplace through ”play,” a term used to explain, “…how people generate and create data both actively and passively through their engagements with popular culture,” which naturalized this process (Beer and Burrows 51).  This emerging trend of detailing one’s life came to be the phatic communication that was missing and needed in enlarging social media networks.  In turn, as does with new media, this culture adapted to suit the needs of the consumer and began embracing persons that exhibited an “increasing willingness to “’tell all’ or ‘expose oneself’ in the media,” (Miller 389).  This is highly problematic for those who happen to choose to CONFESS things to someone.

Social media sites encourage disclosing one’s life through photos, videos and status updates, and regardless of private settings, the information is out there.  The types of communication through social media are afforded both a time and space bias, meaning that you can request an archive of your Tweets, or that an anonymous confession in a Facebook chat is logged and can be accessed from any computer.  For those of you who keep your life and opinions private online, congrats, for those of you who have CONFESSED, look out.  You may be able to take your secret to the grave, but  Facebook certainly doesn’t want to.

Beer, David, and Roger Burrows. “Popular Culture, Digital Archives, and the New Social Life of Data.” Theory Culture & Society 30.4 (2013): 47-71.

Burnett, Robert, and Marshall, P. David. Web Theory: An Introduction. London: Routledge, 2002. Print

Ling, R.S., 2008. The mediation of ritual interaction via the mobile telephone. In: Katz, J.E. (Ed.), Handbook of Mobile Communication Studies.

Miller, Vincent. “New Media, Networking and Phatic Culture.” Convergence 14.4 (2008): 387-400. Web. 23 September 2013

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