The Hedgehog Review

The Hedgehog Review: Vol. 20 No. 1 (Spring 2018)

Just Staying in Touch?

The Hedgehog Review

The Hedgehog Review: Spring 2018

(Volume 20 | Issue 1)

In 2012, the Pew Research Center announced that the average eighteen-to-twenty-four-year-old American smartphone user sent sixty text messages per day, up from the fifty the same demographic cohort dispatched daily in 2009. Briefly impressive, such estimates now seem low for this and other age groups, and the focus on Short Message Service (SMS) texting seems narrow. A case in point: Facebook reported last year that its WhatsApp and Messenger apps field more than sixty billion messages per day. That’s in addition to the half million posts made each minute on Facebook proper. That the vast majority of these messages are concerned with trivialities is hardly surprising. Jeremiads on this score have become an established digital-age genre (appearing on the same Facebook walls and Twitter feeds that they denounce).

But perhaps, as some observers have countered, such worries about social media’s vacuity are beside the point. To use sociologist Vincent Miller’s phrasing, “content is not king” in this domain; “‘keeping in touch’ is.” Miller and others have christened social media the new “phatic” communication, updating the anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski’s term for utterances whose function is not to inform but to build social bonds. But is Malinowski’s construct really so in tune with the world of social media?

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Reprinted from The Hedgehog Review 20.1 (Spring 2018). This essay may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission. Please contact The Hedgehog Review for further details.

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Published three times a year by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, The Hedgehog Review offers critical reflections on contemporary culture—how we shape it, and how it shapes us.

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