Communicative Consequences of Mobile and Digital Media Use in Public Spaces – Attention and Its Social Implications
Media have become digital, hybrid and mobile. Almost everywhere in public, people use mobile phones or laptops. Today, individuals often use their media set and its functions simultaneously. On the one hand, multitasking seems to function well. But, on the other hand, people also get distracted, because media both absorb and divide attention (Gergen, 2001). Why is attention so important? Communicative interaction is only successful when both interaction partners draw their attention to the exchange of information. Processing information demands a certain minimal amount of attention – but attention is a limited cognitive resource of the brain (Styles, 2006). Furthermore, every interaction is built on specific rules like behaviour norms (Blumer, 2004), i.e. two people principally have behaviour expectations of each other (Goffman, 1974). In public places (the public is not a homogeneous continuum), both friends and strangers potentially come into contact. Striving to comply with interaction rules in public, a minimum of attention is required. As a theoretical framework, I propose an action-oriented perspective using the theory of Symbolic Interactionism. The empirical approach is multidisciplinary, multi-methodical and multi-level, based on the “Grounded Theory” (Glaser & Strauss, 2010). Performing several group discussions, I have developed a scheme which spreads out the field of investigation. On this basis, I identified conflictual situations where I expect to find hidden social arrangements becoming visible by media usage (Garfinkel, 1967). But media also cause the transformation and evolution of such arrangements (Hoeflich, 2010). My preliminary study focused on the media user. Qualitative observations and interviews confirmed that media users are distracted. However, they are aware of that fact and sometimes also use media strategically to isolate themselves. Besides, they expect that the people next to them ignore the media contents (e.g. of a cellphone conversation). This indicates that media use in public changes social arrangements. Other people seem to tolerate media use insofar as they are not affected too much by it. In the next step, I will establish a qualitative interview guideline considering attention and concentrating on the characterisation of media and cultural differences. In sum, with due regard to the meaning and characteristics of (attributed) attention in the relationship between media users and strangers, my dissertation will broaden the knowledge of how people in everyday life handle their digital and mobile media set in the public. The results will contribute to both the design of public places and media.