A Phenomenological study of social media: boredom and interest on Facebook, Reddit, and 4chan.




Mitchell, Liam

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Optimists used to suggest that the anonymity of the internet allows people to interact without prejudices about race, sex, or age. Although some websites still foster anonymous communication, their popularity pales in comparison with sites like Facebook that foreground identifying characteristics. These social network sites claim to enrich their users’ lives by cultivating connections, but they sometimes have the opposite effect. Given the widespread and growing use of social media, my research poses the following questions: Does a particular form of (dis)engagement with the world flow from the reduction of the person to a profile? Does this (dis)engagement extend beyond social media, possibly into the way that we understand the world as such? What can we conclude about the broader theoretical framework in which an analysis of social media might be couched? I answer these questions through Martin Heidegger’s work, which provides the theoretical orientation for the dissertation as a whole. Noting that history informs the way that he understands ontology (Chapter One), I argue that the social changes that are accompanying the spread of the internet suggest modifications to his characterizations of boredom (Chapter Two) and technology (Chapter Three). I then turn to three emblematic social media sites – Facebook, which renders its users connected and identifiable (Chapter Four); Reddit, which gathers its users into a pseudonymous community of common interest (Chapter Five); and 4chan, which demands that its users engage in an anonymous fashion (Chapter Six) – and analyze them using the framework developed above while drawing from them to alter that framework further. I claim that although the patterns of use apparent on these sites differ, they all express different aspects of the mood that holds sway over the internet. Social media is both the cause of, and solution to, boredom, and it is shaping a generalized mood that is coming to seem ontological in its purchase.



Facebook, Reddit, 4chan, Martin Heidegger, boredom, interest, phenomenology, social media, distraction