Ambient Awareness: A Replacement for Social Connectedness?

Ambient Awareness is a social science term Clive Thompson used in his article, Brave New World of Digital Intimacy, to explain the new constant online environment we communicate and interact in.  This enables us to maintain weaker social connections in an incessantly overwhelming digital environment.  Facebook was the frontrunner in this form of digital interaction but it has developed to now include microblogging, Twitter, Instagram, etc.  Ambient awareness also considers the narcissistic.  tendencies for people to think that every single little thought or occurrence in every moment of their life necessitates a social media post of microblog. This awareness and behavior weakens social ties and further creates an ego-centric mainframe where the social media user is not so concerned with what is going on in other’s lives but rather the importance of their personal posts.  Are loose connections or acquaintances preferred over the deeper connection of the past?

Embed from Getty Images

Wikipedia further defines ambient awareness as an awareness propagated from relatively constant contact with one’s friends and colleagues via social media platforms. Wikipedia Ambient Awareness 

It would seem that the constant connection created a deeper disconnect or even devalued the meaning in social interaction.  It’s as if we don’t even
“see” each other as human beings but rather view these interactions as transactional.

Anthropologist Robin Dunbar believes that evolutionary structure of social networks limits us to 150 meaningful relationships at a time, despite the rise in social media.  In the following TED Talk, “Why the Internet Won’t Get You Anymore Friends”, Robin Dunbar argues why social media doesn’t give us the expanded social connectedness that it promises.  He makes you question the quality of communication done on social media platforms.  Loose connections are the substance in social media communication.



So, how ambient awareness and the brain’s inability to have larger numbers of truly meaningful relationships effecting our workplace collaboration?  Clive Thompson goes on to further discuss in his New York Times article that ambient awareness allows us to maintain weaker social connections that actually create more common ground in workplace collaboration because the ongoing updates build the social context for collaboration.  B.J. McNely, in the October 2001 publication, Informational communication, sustainability, and the public writing work or organizations from Proceedings of the IEEE International Professional Communication Conference (1-7), further explains that social media practices such as micro-blogging, as discussed in this post, are not seen as formal work, but rather the informal communication that happens alongside the work.  In this context, ambient awareness seems complimentary to the workplace by creating an informal way to collaborate that still builds trust and understanding.


While loose connections are viewed to be harmful to our social interaction, they do in fact have value in certain situations.




Posted on September 30, 2018, in Blogs, Creative, Digital, Metablogging, Social Media, Workplace and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Hi JJ,

    Great title this week for your post.

    You begin to talk about this idea of social media creating weaker ties among individuals and even ask if the use of social media is contributing to weaker in person gatherings and connections.

    I particularly enjoyed this statement you made, “This awareness and behavior weakens social ties and further creates an ego-centric mainframe where the social media user is not so concerned with what is going on in other’s lives but rather the importance of their personal posts.” I think in this statement it can be a little bit of both and the shift of users becoming fixated on their own posts, can be directly because of what others post? Do you think this could also be a an area that overlaps and causes one to become more focused on their individual post? I know often times, after reading a post or comment on social media I found myself uncertain about posting content or saying something in a similar way. Fo me, I can persuaded by what others post rather easily and in the end it can lead me to steer clear and side with not posting.

    I would agree with you if used correctly and appropriately content that is posted on social media especially for those who need to alert the public of emergencies, dangers, etc. the content is helpful and informative therefore strengthening the connection. Where I think the loose connections continue to evolve is in our own personal network of friends where we began to skim, judge and try to make sense of information that may or may not pertain to us.

    Very insightful post. I enjoyed reading your blog post and learning more about your takeaways on this week’s readings.

    – Kim

    • Kim,

      The balance between our focus on our individual social media posts and then that of consuming what others post is constantly changing. I was curious about ambient awareness since it feels like it is a piece of the social media effect on our empathy. I think I’m still trying to figure out my own behaviors. This would be a great sociological study.


  2. I appreciate the applications of the material to these supplemental resources, but don’t forget to preface posts with mention of the assigned readings.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.