Phatic communication is not necessarily a bad thing, but does it hold any real meaning? I feel as if every time I go on Facebook all I see is people sharing music videos, posting statuses complaining about how much homework they have, and posting Buzzfeed lists on their friends’ walls. We’re all communicating, but it’s phatic, and we do it simply to maintain our networks (Miller 390). If this need for connection within a network is truly not about the content of the communication, then why is the content so menial? Clearly, it doesn’t have to be, but it nearly always ends up being the meaningless sharing of information because it is easier to quickly “like” something than to write a long comment about disagreements with the post. Phatic communication fits better with our fast-paced “always-connected” mentality in the digital age (Miller 393).
As I’m typing this in WordPress, I have my phone in front of me. I am sending Snapchats and texting at the same time. I have a Facebook tab, a Google tab, a Flickr tab, a Gmail tab, and an 8tracks tab open on my web browser. Even when doing homework, I am simultaneously connecting to my networks. I’m not even saying anything substantial; I’m sending Snapchat pictures of my face with “hiiiiiiii” written over it. We have all become dependent on forming a connection through social media networks. I don’t know about you, but once someone starts “liking” a lot of my Instagram photos, I feel obligated to also “like” their photos, even if I don’t actually like them or think they are particularly good photographs, just so I can make that connection and participate in that “conversation”. One major issue with these phatic connections is that the communication objects we all own (i.e. cellphones and computers), and that we use for our phatic communication, are replacing face-to-face conversations (Miller 394).
The last thing I do before I go to sleep at night is check all of my messages on every media platform, and the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is check them all again (because, heaven forbid, someone posts an unflattering picture of me to Facebook in the middle of the night and I need to intervene). Our identities are now formed based on how many “friends” we have, how many people read our blogs, how many people follow us on Twitter, how many “likes” we get on our Instagram photos, and on and on. We’ve come to base our self-worth on the quantity of connections instead of the quality of those connections (Miller 389).
These phatic communications are valuable to the people looking to “market products or gain consumer insights” (Miller 398) because this type of information is so easily analyzed (Miller 398). Phatic culture benefits the people who are trying to sell us stuff, but does this phatic communication have any value for us, the people participating in this phatic culture? Sure these phatic communications keep us connected to our networks, but it comes off as fake and vacuous. We are saying something, but if that something has no substance, are we really saying anything?
Miller, Vincent. “New Media, Networking and Phatic Culture.” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 14.4(2008): 387-400.