Technical-Technological Dimension of Facebook: towards a Collective Affectivity

La dimensión técnico-tecnológica de Facebook: hacia una afectividad colectiva

Yeraldine Aldana Gutiérrez (Pontificia Universidad Javeriana)

Mauro Jordan Baquero Rodríguez (Universidad de La Salle)

Camilo Andrés Bonilla Carvajal (Universidad Antonio de Nebrija)

Gustavo Adolfo Rivero Ortiz (Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas)

Artículo recibido: 06-07-2013 | Artículo aceptado: 22-04-2014

ABSTRACT: Social and particularly, affective relationships and practices seem to shape and be reshaped at once by technical-technological devices, such as Facebook. The principal aim of this article is to account for the technical technological processes that transform Facebook members’ affectivity. Twelve ninth graders’ Communicational Practices in Facebook and their perceptions were collected and qualitatively studied. Findings suggest that ninth graders as Affective agents seem to construct a virtualized affective reality, exchanging their emotions and affections by three different operations namely; the grammatical operation, the dialectical operation and the rhetorical operation. Furthermore, Facebook members might not only be users, but also Affective Agents who assess and negotiate their affection Hyper-discourses. In so doing, they are able to build up a Collective Affectivity within the emerging Facebook cyber-field.
RESUMEN: Las relaciones y prácticas sociales, particularmente las de carácter afectivo parecen configurar Dispositivos y mecanismos técnico-tecnológicos, tales como la red social Facebook además de reconfigurarse simultáneamente a través de estos. El objetivo principal del presente artículo es proporcionar una explicación posible acerca de los procesos técnico tecnológicos que potencialmente reconfigurarían la afectividad de los miembros en la red social Facebook. Las prácticas comunicacionales en el muro de Facebook por 12 estudiantes de noveno junto con sus percepciones han sido recolectadas y estudiadas cualitativamente. Los hallazgos demuestran que los participantes entendidos como Agentes Afectivos construyen una realidad afectiva virtualizada al intercambiar sus emociones y afectos a través de tres operaciones: la gramatical, la dialéctica y la retórica. En efecto, los datos sugieren que los miembros de Facebook no son únicamente usuarios, sino agentes que evalúan y negocian hiperdiscursos del afecto para construir una Afectividad Colectiva dentro de un cibercampo emergente.

KEYWORDS: virtualization, collective affectivity, Facebook, affective agent
PALABRAS CLAVE: virtualización, afectividad colectiva, Facebook, agente afectivo


1. Introduction
1.1. Origin of the article

The present article is the result of the research Exploring Communicational Practices through Facebook as a Medicatic Device tutored by the professor Daniel Beltrán. This one in turn was developed in the research sub-group “Contemporary Interdisciplinary Studies in the Computer-Mediated Communication” (CISC), as part of a whole Research project named Mediatic Communicational phenomena  nowadays, a perspective from the Mediatizations and pedagogic possibilities (“los Fenómenos Comunicacionales Mediáticos Contemporáneos; una perspectiva desde las Mediatizaciones y las posibilidades pedagógicas” at Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas.

1.2. Increasing interaction in Facebook
According to the Seo Colombia, Posicionamiento Web organization (2009), 4,519,309 Colombian people from 185,000,000 worldwide appear as Facebook users. Colombia thus holds the eighth place within the top ten as the first Latin American country with the highest number of Facebook members, from 14 to 34 years old. As a result, the research “Exploring Communicational Practices through Facebook as a Mediatic Device” approaches Facebook in a multidisciplinary mode by understanding the Communicational phenomenon behind this social network viewed as a Mediatic Device.  Specifically, this article displays and discusses one of the emerging categories from the investigation abovementioned as part of its results.

The overall investigation examines the communicational phenomenon from Facebook within the qualitative approach and the phenomenological method (Cohen et al., 2003; Creswell, 2007; Johnson & Christensen, 2008; Freeman, 1998; Marshall & Rossman, 1999). Facebook wall interventions as Computer-mediated Communicational Practices by participants are collected along with their perceptions (Godínez, 2003) in semi-structured interviews and participant-observation procedures.

Additionally, this research develops around two constructs namely, Mediatic Device and Communicational Practices. The former is shaped essentially by Ferreira’s work (2008) in his Mediatization theory; Levy (1999) from his technical-technological perspective; Foucault (1989) and Martín-Barbero (2003) with his concept of Mediation. The latter is constructed by diverse views on behavior and communication such as those from Bourdieu (1980, 1984, 1990, 1991, 1997, 2007), Halliday (1978), Habermas (1989, cited in Bolton, 2005) and Beltrán (2009, 2010).

This article reflects upon the research sub-question of this study: How does the virtualization dynamic occur in Facebook as a Mediatic Device? Firstly, the principal characteristics of the virtualization dynamic identified in the Facebook wall are introduced, considering ninth graders’ (alternative) Computer-mediated Communicational Practices together with Perceptions. Secondly, operations of the virtualization dynamic taking place in the Facebook wall are described. And finally, an overall definition for the Technical-technological Facebook dimension is provided as comprising a Collective Affectivity. At this point, participants or ninth graders are labeled as Affective agents for purposes of interpretation in this research.

2. Face-Virtualization tenets: reified affections exchange

Initially, Facebook social network as a technological tool is equipped with plenty of communicational facilities. Among those, Facebook members are able to store large amounts of information while interacting in its wall. This very technical-technological possibility allows Facebook members’ daily temporal events to become lasting texts. Once Facebook participants discuss about their personal facts through the Facebook wall, they set them in time. As members receive and comment on others’ posted interventions, there emerges a virtual market in the Facebook wall. This means Facebook members understood as Affective agents partake in the dynamic of the substances and happenings economy. For that reason, these events from their lives count on the technical technological support to be exchanged and kept then along the time in the Facebook wall, as having an extended occurrence.

In this fashion, Affective agents are able to recycle and negotiate their Communicational Practices whenever they want to do so. In other words, this scenario involves a set of recording supports as well as an automatic access to information which correspond to the Facebook memory capacity as expressed by Lévy (2007: 19).

As a result, a connection is developed between the substance (the typed event) and the happening itself (the source of typed events).  These lasting facts (substances) are represented by information circulating founded on what Affective agents might experience in their lives (happenings). Whilst the happening pole implies “complejización y desplazamiento de problemas, montaje de máquinas subjetivizantes, construcciones y circulaciones de objetos” (Lévy, 1999: 114), the substance pole “envuelve, degrada, fija y se alimenta del polo del acontecimiento” (114.). As an illustration, Computer-mediated communicational Practices in (NF-1) from Table 1 are concerned with Going out with friends as a social interaction hyper-discourse. Albeit this one comes out as a fixed substance for being stored in the Facebook wall memory, it is highly motivated by the happening discussed there which is again expressed in the same participant’s perceptions (see Table 2).

Indeed, NF’s assertions refer to social meetings through concrete actions that occur naturally as events. Although the articulation of these happenings makes them substances in the form of words, they do not appear in daily life as such. This is to say the happening might not be announced or stated; it just takes place. In conclusion, the Facebook wall might encompass a virtual exchange of substances inspired by usual contingencies that get endured for the technical technological support.

Table 1: Computer-Mediated Communicational Practices.

Table 2: Perceptions Sample.

Along these lines, Affective agents may construct a virtualized affective reality where their emotionality moves towards virtualization. Facebook Affective agents use the Facebook wall to make their emotional happenings a set of affective substances. They deterritorialize or place their interpersonal and affective relationships “beyond the ordinary here” (Lévy, 1999: 14). For that reason, the most prominent hyper-discourses exploited in the Facebook wall pertain to an affection hyper-discursive field (see Bar Chart 1:Hyper-discourses). Here Affective agents’ sexuality, friendship and love affairs get disconnected from their physical space and time. To exemplify this, the computer-mediated communicational Practices (NF-1) in Table 3 display a love hyper-discourse that has to do with a lasting love feeling despite possible constraints and includes the wife-husband interpersonal relation type. In consequence, the Facebook wall surfaces as a field for social interactions where agents’ relationships get reshaped “with little inertia” as expressed by Lévy (1999: 14).

Bar Chart 1: Hyper-discourses.

Table 3: Computer mediated Communicational Practices.

By the same token, Affective agents’ emotions as well as gestuality get virtualized for the constant use of emoticons and particularly, the heart one (see Bar Chart 2: Emoticons). For instance, the respondent in NF-1 (Table 3) replies through the heart emoticon conveying a sense of happiness, agreement and enthusiasm as a set of virtualized emotions in regard to NF’s love hyper-discourse. As a matter of fact, emoticons play an essential role in the construction of the virtualized affective reality, inasmuch as Affective agents’ Communicational Practices commonly include these indexes for the intended meaning. As an illustration, AC-2 in Table 3 embraces the heart and the big smile emoticons as part of a whole interaction where these ones are understood, provoking even a response.

Bar Chart 2: Emoticons.

In contrast, another tenet illustrating the virtualization of Facebook agents’ affective reality is the breaking of time/space barriers in both, their Computer-mediated Communicational Practices and perceptions. This is because Affective agents include and materialize immediateness discourses through them. This elucidates then the point that abbreviations are the most representative and recurrent indexes employed (see Bar Chart 3:General Indexes). For example, the abbreviation -cundo to express when or -Cuando in Spanish as a time adverb is utilized in Table 4 (CV-1).

Bar Chart 3: General Indexes.

Table 4: Computer-mediated communicational practices and perceptions

Similarly, participants’ perceptions (e.g. Table 4, CV-2) state directly a discourse about immediateness. This very intervention reveals participants’ prime concern on doing daily activities faster. Indeed, the lexical item abbreviated in the former sample (-cundo) mirrors a special interest in building a temporality and a space up in the Facebook wall (see Table 4.CV-2). At this instant, Facebook Affective agents are still dependent on time/space; they draw on this existence condition to pass from a linear and physical notion around time and space to a “paradoxical, variable and dynamic” one as argued by Lévy (1999: 16).

Additionally, abbreviations utilized by Affective agents may be part of a substances and happenings economy tending towards affections saving. Since issues from agents’ affection are expressed by means of abbreviations in the Facebook wall, they tend to become lasting abbreviated or reduced substances in this scenario. In this manner, abbreviations such as –Kielo in Table 4 (CV-3) might imply a feeling or an emotion that is exchanged in a virtual market as a compressed affective good. Likewise, joined abbreviations forming whole affective expressions are traded in the Facebook wall. As a case in point, the abbreviation of the phrase “Todo lo rico” in Table 4 (AC-5) and “Tqiero” (CV-4) bring sexuality plus love hyper-discourses respectively and partly, for the reason that there is a reserve of them through the abbreviation per se.

On the other hand, Facebook agents’ affectivity which has to do with their subjective experience or inner dimension is objectified by means of technical technological possibilities and the virtualization dynamic as such. At the very moment when affective agents post their comments, including those about falling in love and lover’s company from affection hyper-discourses in Table 5 (NF-1), these appear in other Facebook friends’ walls at once. In so doing, any allowed friend is able to make different replies, generalizing the subjective situation in the collective. Within the previous exemplar, the initiator participant displays her happiness for having a husband and her love feelings towards him. Subsequently, further agents intervene through the “I like” option and another participant makes a comment, restating and almost translating the current condition of the initiator. This means agents interpret and discuss an individual condition, making it a virtual group good to share and even identify with.

Table 5: Computer-Mediated Communicational Practices

In contrast, Facebook Affective agents may also call on a certain amount of objective information to involve it in each one’s subjective dimension. This is in turn evident in Table 6 (AC-1) or (AC-2) where a general property defined from outside and attributable to any of the agents is suggested in the form of a chain to be personalized through either, the “I like” option or the comments made around it. In a nutshell, those participants’ Computer-mediated Communicational Practices may shed light on the other overriding tenet of the virtualization dynamic which is known as the Moebius Effect. Taking into consideration the above cases, “the act of going from the interior to the exterior and the other way around” is fulfilled by Affective agents in the Facebook wall, developing then the so called Moebius Effect in line with Lévy (1999: 17), supporting the construction of a virtualized affective reality.

Table 6: Computer-Mediated Communicational Practices

3. Face-operations: towards a virtualized affective reality

Facebook Affective agents participate in three basic operations within the virtualization dynamic for them to construct their affective reality. In firsthand, the constant use of emoticons might respond to “a continuity breakup linked to the concrete body to obtain more conventional elements derived from a hyperbody” (Lévy, 1999: 69). The list of emoticons for the Facebook wall in Figure 1 from which the heart was the most usual one, stand for a set of deterritorialized gestures and emotions to be perceived and interpreted by affective agents inside the same technical grammar.

Figure 1: Facebook Emoticons.

Likewise, the commonest mode of interaction in the Facebook wall overlaps the second type suggested in this study. This one in turn consists of an external intervention made and replied through the “I like” option by any of the participants (see Bar Chart 4: Modes of Interaction). More precisely, Affective agents’ interactions tend to begin in a text chart followed by the “I like” option. In this manner, the most prominent way Affective agents communicate with others follows the basic movements sequence allowed in the Facebook wall format. The Facebook wall comprises then another Grammatical operation understood as “the cutting of virtual elements, sequences or a double articulation” as highlighted by Lévy (1999: 109). In reality, the importance given to this Grammatical operation rests with the fact that it allows a quick turns shift, fastening processes and suiting the virtualization temporality abovementioned.

Bar Chart 4: Modes of Interaction.

Nevertheless, this Grammatical operation connected directly with the second mode of interaction may also suggest Facebook agents’ passive and prevented attitude towards initiating a conversation.  Interaction between participants in this research is actually started by another member through the technical-technological device. As an instance, VV participant has only one interaction initiated by her out of 30 where the left 29 correspond to the second mode of interaction during 16 weeks. VV’s participation in the Facebook wall overlapped the basic grammatical operation in this scenario. In short, the technical function implied in the basic grammatical operation from the Facebook wall may also hide a social one as argued by Bourdieu (1997).

Correspondingly, that Grammatical operation embraces a set of “semiotic resources which allow the simultaneous realization of discourses and types of (inter)action” (Kress & Van Leeuwen, 2001: 21). To put it in another way, the basic Facebook wall grammatical operation relies in the multimodality feature as involving an array of diverse semiotic components, such as the visual, audiovisual and alphabetic texts. In this fashion, meanings and senses are communicated by Facebook Affective agents through multiple modes.

For understanding this multimodality in the Facebook format and from the technical-technological stance, Figure 2 may be an appropriate example. To start with, the name of the Facebook agent is presented in an alphabetic text with an embedded hyperlink. Specifically, the image linking may openly bring a relationship on to the agent’s comment posted. This very comment does not appear as linking information as opposed to the previous area and the technical options below. Notably, the “I like” technical option leads to further visual and alphabetic texts where the choice of this option is stated in third person. At the same time, this text chart contains a hyperlink that connects the name of the agent and her Facebook wall. Although the mostly displayed Grammatical operation in participants’ walls seems simple or plain, this emerges as multimodal too, forasmuch as an interaction with a myriad of texts is likely to be conducted in the Facebook wall.

Figure 2: Multimodality in Facebook format.

In light of the above, Facebook Affective agents virtually go through multiple places or closeness schemes by means of the hyperlink mechanism that connects two or more interfaces from agents’ Facebook accounts and more precisely, their Facebook walls. In other words, hyperlinks afford agents “the jumps that users can make if they wanted to move from one page or site to another” (Crystal, 2008: 210). Hence, the use of Facebook hyperlinks in the technical options and agents’ names might mediate between signs systems and objective or subjective worlds of Affective agents as argued by Lévy (1999). As a result, it is feasible to identify a dialectical operation performed through the hyperlink, since it appears to establish “relationships of meaning, association or reference among two different entities” (Lévy, 1999: 73).

On the other hand, the constant use of the “I like” option in all four modes of interaction and even in those that do not include it directly (the third and fourth modes of interaction) may reveal another virtualization feature in Facebook. Certainly, the “I like” option is more than an intervention as such for Facebook participants. It seems a complementary part of Affective agents’ computer-mediated Communicational Practices in the Facebook wall. To illustrate it, Table 7 (CV-1) displays the common mode of interaction where the agent posts a message and selects the “I like” option. Still, the interaction blends follow-up replies with the choice of the “I like” option. Thereby, the “I like” option may be personalized by agents to the extent that it discloses a subjective condition of them.

Table 7: Computer-Mediated Communicational Practices.

Bar Chart 5: Agents’ Interventions.

In effect, the “I like” option remains relevant in participants’ interactions. This option is prevalent over the written comments by participants in the Facebook wall (see Bar Chart 5: Agents’ Interventions) and multifunctional or polysemic; yet framed within agents’ affectivity. For instance, even if (NF-1) in Table 8 portrays a sad mood for a difficult situation in the Affective agent’s life, other three participants reply through the “I like” option. At this point, the statement “I like” in the technical option might be a façade that hides a myriad of intended meanings, as it is expressed by NF in 193 and 195 concerning the situation already described (see Table 8: NF-2). This was because the three participants’ intent is not to convey happiness towards the Affective agent’s problems, but friendship, solidarity and support as readjusted or alternative senses for the “I like” option.

Table 8: Computer-Mediated Communicational Practices.

Furthermore, the use of the “I like” option to mobilize Facebook members or Affective agents’ opinions, judgments and their overall Labeling principles or Taste (Bourdieu, 1997:21) is ritualized in the Facebook wall. This is to say there is an entailed process of turning those opinions, perceptions and even judgments from participants into objects or substances; therefore reifying them. Simultaneously, the use of the “I like” option for the purposes mentioned becomes part of Affective agents’ Habitus as “the principal generator and translator of a particular position’s characteristics into a life style or a selection of practices, persons and goods” (Bourdieu, 1997: 12). That is why the choice of the “I like” option seems to be indispensable and inbuilt for any Communicational Practice in the Facebook wall.

On account of this, Affective agents are able to objectify their subjective response to an objectified subjective situation through the “I like” technical technological mechanism which becomes a convention (an objectified tool) among Affective agents in the Facebook wall. In other words, there seems to be substitutions of particularly, affections and emotions owning to the prominent hyper-discourses constructed in the Facebook wall and the performance of the other indexes oriented to agents’ affectivity. As a consequence, a series of correspondence relationships are established between the agent’s affective response and the technical mechanism “I like” employed to convey and mean this, carrying out a Dialectical operation as explained by Lévy (1999: 64) for a virtualized affective reality.

In contrast, Affective agents also take in an inventiveness of affections and emotions through the combination of the pre-established Facebook emoticons to provoke alternative and multiple meanings in their virtualized affective reality (see Table 9: Invention Bank). As a matter of course, the Rhetorical operation emerges here as “the creation of signs arrangements, new ideas or forms, the constitution and reconstitution of them or the original manners appearance” (Lévy, 1999: 64). Indeed, Affective agents as CV, DB and DS prefer to design their own emoticons to communicate exactly what they aim, seeing that they perceive Facebook emoticons as being limited and constraining (see Table 10).

Table 9: Invention Bank.

Table 10: Face talk perceptions.

Affective agents might then transform goods in circulation in the Facebook wall through stylistic Position takings that help these agents to differentiate and express significantly in reference to Bourdieu (1997: 25). To exemplify this, the emoticon – ♥.♥ (Table 9: Invention Bank) is an affective product of the rhetorical operation which keeps a multimodal nature for the mixture of two semiotic elements and encompasses a polysemic tenet. This is supported by the varied and distinctive connotations it produces in Affective agents’ walls. In reality, ♥.♥ indicates other ends namely, falling in love, apology acceptance and “never mind”.

4. Aiming at a Collective Affectivity

Affective agents may then develop their Computer-mediated Communicational Practices in the Facebook wall as a contemporary Cyberfield. More precisely, the Facebook wall might appear as “the material support” (own translation) for the virtualized information around these Facebook participants’ affectivity (Lévy, 2007:14). Hence, Affective agents interact in a problematic field, because the virtualization dynamic takes place in the Facebook wall as an emerging cyberfield. In other words, grammars (e.g. the pre-established emoticons) and counter-grammars (i.e. emoticons from the Invention Bank) come into view to create or recreate proximity systems or positions with new or alternative meanings inside different temporal boundaries. Thus, the cyberfield in question connects Affective agents’ Facebook walls for them to communicate digitalized affective information.

Specifically, this cyberfield affords the emerging Affective community the appropriate setting to construct a Collective Affectivity. This is because the cyberfield might comprise “a number of tensions, energies movement, conflicts and affective qualities that constitute a social psiquism” as said by Lévy (1999: 53). In this fashion, a set of new or preexisting affections and emotions from agents’ inner experience circulates in the Facebook wall or cyberfield as part of a virtualized affective reality collectively shared and interpreted. This one in turn is recorded in the collective affective memory supported by the technical technological possibility of storing information in the Facebook wall cyberfield. In the case of Table 11 (NF-1), the subjective dimension of the participant is broadened in the collective for acknowledgement as a social wealth and so, worth attaching to the collective affectivity.

Table 11: Computer-Mediated Communicational Practices.

By the same token, this Collective Affectivity draws on a meaningful language and technical-technological mechanisms for it to unfold. Concerning the former, affection hyper-discourses, the commonest used heart emoticon, –kerer as the most repeated lexical item (see Bar Chart 6: Lexical Items repeated) and affection-related expressions seem to assist Communicational Practices oriented to the collective affectivity. On the other hand, participants’ affectivities need to be valued to keep them in the collective; therefore this reciprocal assessment among Facebook agents appears to be mainly fulfilled through the “I like” technical technological mechanism (see Table 11).

Bar Chart 6: Lexical Items repeated.

Moreover, the development of this Collective Affectivity in the Facebook wall cyberfield also produces an interpretative symbolic environment which requires Affective agents to learn how to read and make affection hyper-discourses.  In a nutshell, this is doable through a technical-technological competence that allows Facebook Affective agents to “construct and produce meanings, interpretations and knowledge” on the virtualized affective information as argued by Lévy (2007).This is to say that Affective agents may encounter the necessity to enhance their digital and more specifically, Facebook literacy to be able to mobilize their affections and emotions in the cyberfield. In fact, DB and NF participants explicitly state the relevance of learning how to create particular emoticons through technical codes rather than copying them from another web site and pasting those in the own (see Table 12). Albeit this is a common practice that springs from the well-known Digital literacy, these Affective agents emphasize on learning a particular Facebook procedure as part of a defined Facebook literacy.

Table 12: Perceptions.

5. Conclusion

Finally, we are able to come up with a definition for the Technical-technological dimension of Facebook considering what was explained above. Correspondingly, this subcategory relates to the facet and quality of Facebook and particularly, its wall that makes it an available cyberfield for agents’ affectivity to participate in a virtualization dynamic. This one in turn involves the path from the actual state to the virtual one. In this manner, the Facebook wall as an Affective Mediatic Device allows negotiating agents to construct a virtual affective reality within this cyberfield. More precisely, this virtual reality embraces virtualized affections and emotions that can be exchanged and interpreted by Affective agents, constructing their Collective Affectivity.

As a result, Facebook as a whole could constitute an Affective Mediatic Device that reshapes agents’ Communicational practices by virtualizing the semio-discoursive goods on their affectivity through three types of operations. Specifically, we refer to the Grammatical, Dialectical and Rhetorical operations from the virtualization dynamic which encompasses both, Facebook device-agents and agents-agents relationship types.


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