Techno-Affect: Feeling in the Age of New Media

Am I the only person who has ever shockingly discovered -- without ever having set out to do so -- that I had been defriended by a Facebook acquaintance or blocked by a Tweep (shorthand for "Twitter Peep" in savvy new media-ese)?

Or, maybe you have experienced the brunt of a cyber-dis by having been relegated to the position of a limited access "friend" on another's FB page, unfollowed by a Tweep, made the subject of someone's Google+ status update, or (better yet) caught in the crossfire of a cyber-squabble that someone else sparked on your FB page in response to something you wrote that had nothing to do with the other person at all?

These antics are commonplace for most folk who brave the terrain of virtual communication in cyberspace. And, don't get me wrong, there's a lot of good happening in the world of virtuality. I've personally experienced the benefits that come along with existing in virtual reality (i.e. reconnecting to estranged family members; encouragement and support from folk around the world; donations for causes; and even dates). Yet, even the most virtuous of virtual experiences provide pause for consideration of our experiences of feeling in this moment of new media technologies.

Why? These experiences may occur within the virtual socio-sphere -- a multifaceted constellation of simulated social spaces -- but they are human occurrences that are interlaced with feeling, Indeed, our varied forms of emotional expression, as we travel through the internets, might signal a change in human expression as it manifests in our present milieu or offer insight into the possible ways that new media technologies might reconfigure our demonstrations and experiences of emotion.

For instance, consider an ostensibly unassuming FB user interface feature like the "like button" and the ways that a user, by virtue of one click, transmit senses of acquiescence, support, alignment and feelings of collective elation or frustration depending on that which they are responding to. The singular "liking," or not, of a post is a virtual diffusion of feeling. That can't be so bad, can it? Well, consider the fast-paced environs of social media worlds: a person can "like" several statuses (i.e. a pronouncement of someone's love; a word of comfort for another's loved one; a celebratory note in honor of another's accomplishment; a rant; etc.) within the span of a few minutes. Within minutes, the same person can literally log out of FB and her/his domain of feeling, simultaneously. We can feel deeply and within a short span of time lose our emotional connection to, or affective memory of, that which moved us a short time ago in the cyber world. Do you sense a #trend?

I know. I know. Clearly, the choice of engagement and disengagement on the part of the user is what makes social media sites, like FB, worthwhile social utilities, but consider the possible implications that these practices could have on the ways we demonstrate and experience emotions within material relationship formations. We can express anger, disapproval, excitement, and compassion within cyber space and then log off. Leave. Move on.

One has to wonder about the possibility of replicating similar emotional expressions in real time, you know, like the lack of attentiveness given to matters of the heart, the short-circuiting of our feelings, the dis-ease we might experience as a result of having to spend too much time ruminating on stale "statuses" that have already provoked thought and emotion. Okay, you see where I am going, yes? I guess what I want to consider is: inasmuch as new media technologies shape our world, for good or bad, we have to also consider how we are shaped in the process? And we have to consider if we feel and experience emotion differently as a result? I should have probably posted this as a note on Tumblr, but then I would have felt shamed if folk didn't repost.