Social media encourages uninterrupted connectivity. With mobiles in hand and alert settings activated, consumers are continuously connected to social platforms. How does the desire for continuous connectedness impact the consumer experience? And what, if any, are the consequences? Ludmila Lupinacci explores these questions in his research article Absentmindedly scrolling through nothing. His study includes a thematic analysis of qualitative data gathered through a diary-interview method.
Expect the unexpected
Lupinacci suggests that social media is purposely designed to keep consumers continuously connected. Social media allows consumers to access events and people they cannot reach directly. At the same time, these platforms offer the ability to interact with others immediately around these topics. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others social platforms pulsate with likes, re-postings, notifications, and trend lists.
Lupinacci refers to these tools as signals of vibrating life. For many, it offers a sense of community and belonging. For others, it offers the potential for virality, transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary. Consumers have become habituated to expect the unexpected. Social media’s monetization strategy is based on consumer engagement because these platforms derive their revenue through data-driven targeted advertising. Therefore, the more time consumers are connected, the more data they collect, the more targeted ads are served.
Like traditional media, social media converts audience attention into revenue. However, the methods used to maintain audience attention are different. Media channels, like television and newspapers, use storytelling, fictional or real, to engage consumers. For example, a television series typically organizes its content into logical sequences to keep the viewer’s attention. It fills time by ensuring that something happens. Lupinacci describes this as an intermission or an imminent interruption from the ordinary. In this way, the TV series captures consumer attention and exchanges for advertising revenue.
However, social platforms in general do not organize events into logical storylines. There is no intermission of the ordinary. Any moment, no matter how mundane or commonplace, can earn event status. In fact, consumers remain engaged because they perpetually wait for something remarkable to happen on social media. And this constant, inevitable (if unsatisfying) engagement is readily monetized.
Importantly, consumers are aware of the time and energy they spend on social platforms. They often describe themselves as navigating aimlessly without finding content of value. They recognize that social algorithms drive their need for connectivity.
Interestingly, consumers identify five different emotional experiences on social media:
- Excitement and enthusiasm about possibilities offered by social media platforms. Their enjoyment is often rooted in the possibility of accessing other people’s reactions to, and experiences of, whatever is happening.
- Anxiety and the feeling of discomfort. Consumers express that their state of constant alertness, often prompts “stress-scrolling” or “doom-scrolling.”
- Reassurance and a gateway for support, comfort, and help. Social media offers endorsement and validation; whatever you experience is also being felt by others.
- Exhaustive and overloaded from the influx of information. Consumers express a sense of pointlessness in participating in social media.
- Responsibility to remain connected. There’s the constant pressure to be contactable. Many feel they cannot go offline for week without notifying a few people of their whereabouts offline.
A “live” worth living
Lupinacci’s work focuses around what she calls “liveness.” She points out that liveness has been employed by a range of media industries and technologies to promise immediate access to meaningful events and happenings as they unfold. Social media creates a sense of “the live” — in that the unexpected could happen at any time and in that it fosters a sense of real-time connectedness. However, the emphasis is on creating an anticipation of the possibility of meaning, of eventfulness, of human connection. That anticipation, in turn, fuels the scrolling, which fuels the monetization model.”
According to Lupinacci, constant connectedness alters our sense of time, space and what appears as “live.” And she believes that there are consequences to changing our perception of live events. It affects our capability to make sense of ourselves and as a result surfaces ambivalent emotional experience. In reality, social media’s culture of connectivity is a monetization model.
Traditional media captures the value of “live” and “liveness” and provides a meaningful pause, or interruption. It can connect people across continents around events unfolding anywhere. The storytelling model is designed to deliver value and engagement, which is rewarded through time, attention, and revenue. Social media, on the other hand, capitalizes on consumer’s longing for these experiences, but ultimately monetizes engagement alone, not the value of the experience.