Part of the reason for starting a webpage and blog was to create an online social presence for myself. That being said, I had never fully researched what it was to have ‘social presence’. A quick search led me to a paper written by Ruth Rettie of Kingston University in the U.K. The title of the paper is, “Connectedness, Awareness and Social Presence”. The author discusses the relationship that exists between these three concepts. The paper helped to clarify my understanding of social presence somewhat, but like usual there are more questions than answers coming from the reading.
The author begins by admitting that it is difficult to define ‘social presence’. She offers up several different interpretations from other individuals as to what social presence is. Perhaps the clearest definition she provides is from Short et al. (1976). They define social presence as the “degree of salience of the other person in a mediated communication and the consequent salience of their interpersonal interactions” (Short, et al., 1976, 65 as quoted by Rettie, 2010, 1). Therefore, this would be the degree of importance of the other person and the related importance to us in our interpersonal interactions. The more important an interaction becomes for me the more salient it becomes. Thus, a greater amount of salience leads to a greater amount of social presence. Rettie uses Biocca et al. to apply this definition of social presence to electronic interaction like e-mail, blogs, etc. Biocca et al. (2001) define ‘social presence’ as pertaining to the user, but also relate it to the interaction and the medium. (2) Biocca et al state that social presence “is a temporary judgment of the nature of interaction with the other, as limited or augmented by the medium.” (Biocca, 2001)
Another related concept that Rettie pulls in is that of awareness. Rettie quotes Dourish and Bly (1992) as defining awareness as “an understanding of the activities of others, which provides a context for your own activity” (3). Thus, awareness is more than simply having heard of something or someone. Moreover, it is not the same as thinking of someone. In order to be aware, we must have a sense of experience and experiencing the phenomenon (or person). Rettie uses the following examples: “Awareness here is not used in the sense of having heard of, as in, ‘I am aware of President Bush’, nor, in the sense of thinking about someone” (4).
Another concept related to awareness and social presence is that of connectedness. This is where I get more interested and excited by the discussion. I am interested in learning ecologies and the connectedness of all aspects of our learning, including people, places, and things. Rettie uses Smith and Mackie to argue that “the pursuit of connectedness is one of the three basic motivating principles which underlie social behaviour; this fundamental need for belonging and connectedness promotes social relationships.” (4) Rettie continues, “Communication can create a sense of connectedness or feeling of being in touch; in awareness systems this may be more important than the content of the communication.” (5) This is interesting… It is not so much what is being said as it is just saying something. This is something at which I am not so good. I usually do not say anything unless I feel it is important. This may be a mistake as people may take this as a sign of disinterest – or at least it is just fading into the background as I say nothing.
By using Kuwabara et al., Rettie suggests that we select the means of communication based on our need for connectedness. Some of the different means could be mobile phones and text messaging, online messenger programs, etc… She explains that “Connectedness is the most important factor in making a choice between communication channels.” (6) This makes me wonder… so does this mean that we select the channels we use for communication based on the level of need of connectedness? How does this relate to our use of Twitter, or Face book, or that of using blogs as a means of communicating. Is this one of the “important” tenants of social media? Is it the fact that social media tools allow for greater connectedness? How does this apply to learning ecologies? Is connectedness greater in formal/informal/nonformal learning?
Townsend suggests that a mobile is “a pacifier for adults – it makes you feel connected, that you are not alone in the world.” (2001, 70) Rettie uses Ling and Yttri to extend this argument describing text messaging as “a type of social interaction in which the sender and receiver share a common, though asynchronous, experience. Sending a message refreshes the contact between the two (2002, 158). I am left wondering if Twitter is an effective way to do this.
Therefore, connectedness and social presence are related, but they are not exactly the same things. When we have a social presence, it is a “judgement of the perception of the other participant and/or of the medium.” (3) And it is easier to think of connectedness as the “emotional experience, evoked by, but independent of, the other’s presence.” (3) I think I understand this. Let me use the example of a blog to clarify. By deciding that a blog is a good way of reaching people, I have made a social presence judgment. And connectedness is the emotional experience brought on my reading the blog (or producing it?).
Rettie offers and example that I find very useful. “IM and text messaging illustrate the difference between the social presence and connectedness. They awareness that others are online in IM conveys connectedness even when there is no message exchange; similarly, the exchange of ‘goodnight’ text messages creates connectedness. In awareness systems there may be virtually no social presence, i.e. little salience of the other person, and no access to their intelligence, intentions or sensory impressions, however at the same time there may be a feeling of psychological involvement and experience of connectedness.” (3) This example helps to clarify, and it reiterates the importance of being connected more than just having social presence. Back to the blog example, perhaps successful blogs (those that draw many visitors) there needs to be a sense of connectedness. How is that achieved? Is that through daily postings? Does the author need to respond to people’s comments in order to foster a sense of connectedness? Can connectedness be one-sided? Can the reader feel connected to the author without ever exchanging messages?
One of the points I find most interesting is that social presence and connectedness compliment each other very nicely. While social presence may be very little or low there may still be a very strong sense of connectedness. Rettie suggests that “connectedness includes affective benefits such as a stronger group attraction, a feeling of staying in touch, a sense of sharing, belonging and intimacy.” (4). I think this is evident in our PhD group.
To end with, Rettie simplifies by stating that: “The concept of connectedness is related to awareness, in that it is often the awareness of presence that creates the experience of connectedness.” (4) I think that connectedness may also be useful in understanding social media (Web 2.0) and what is currently going on concerning formal, informal and nonformal learning through social media.
Biocca, F., Harms, C. & Burgoon, J. (2001) Criteria and Scope conditions for a Theory and Measure of Social Presence. Presence 2001, 4th Annual International Workshop. Philadelphia.
Dourish, P. & Bly, S. (1992) Portholes: Supporting awareness in a distributed work group. ACM CHI 1992.
Ling, R. & Yttri, B. (2002) Hyper-coordination via Mobile Phones in Norway. IN Katz, J. E. & Aakhus, M. A. (Eds.) Perpetual Contact, 139-169. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Rettie, R. (2010) Connectedness, Awareness and Social Presence.
Short, J., et al. (1976) The Social Psychology of Telecommunications, London, United Kingdom, John Wiley.
Smith, E. & Mackie, D. (2000) Social Psychology, 2nd Edition, New York, Psychology Press.
Townsend, A. M. (2001) Movile Communications in the Twenty-first Century City. IN Brown, B., Green, N. & Harper, R. (Eds.) Wireless World. Verlag, United Kingdom, Springer.