A paper about something we all experience but cannot put into words
Have you experienced some of these feelings recently?
- That you are simultaneously present in multiple places, that is physical and virtual at the same time?
- That here and there blur?
- That time shrinks into now?
- That you do not reflect being online or offline as two distinct conditions for they merge into one?
- That your everyday smartphone usage has turned into a ritual, a mundane practice, a habit? That your smartphone is not a mere device, a tool, but something more – a companion, assistant, body part, your extension?
Instead of being apart from us, mobile technology is becoming a part of us.
Are you looking for words that would precisely describe and enlighten nascent human condition which is no more solely bound to the physical, but simultaneously to the digital?
Is your answer yes?
Well, then we are on the same page, for in the course of writing my dissertation thesis I recognised that there is something missing in marketing and consumer culture theory. A missing concept that would accurately reflect changes and shifts already embedded in practice. When observing our mundane handling with mobile devices, I realised that the generally accepted online/offline divide has become obsolete due to mobile internet miniaturised into tiny devices which we keep in our pockets everywhere we go and with which we stay connected to our virtual networks 24/7.
We are not online OR offline; we are both, simultaneously. We are hybrid.
Hybrid practices and online/offline hybridity in a hybrid space
Therefore, I tried to fill the gap. Find new words and name what we all feel but cannot articulate. In my paper, I offer a novel theoretical framework depicting our contemporary ordinary lives with and within the digital technology. Two fundamental terms are suggested: hybrid space as a space of the everyday in which the physical and the digital blur, merge in such a way that they become indistinguishable; and online/offline hybridity as a mode of being in this space. What I find to be the most intense feature of our hybrid condition, is the growing need for connectedness, belonging, and constant contact.
The question arises as to whether the intensification of our need for instant digital reflection by others is a cause or a consequence. Is our furiously permanent consumption of the digital the reason why we feel being alone together or is it the consequence of the normal postmodern human condition, meaning that we are indeed alone together.
After dealing with the re-conceptualisation of hybridity, I move to hybrid practices which raise as a consequence of our hybrid Being. I focus on our hybrid, i.e. smartphone habits and emphasise the effects of our unreflexive, automated handling with mobile devices. For by transforming space into an interactive (game)board, mobile technologies change the way we experience many of what were previously mundane and ordinary activities such as driving a car, waiting at the bus stop, shopping, eating, travelling, breastfeeding etc.
1. Hybrid presence is being measured not as a metric distance but as a time-distance, and in this sense hybrid self is the instantaneous self.
Absolute space-time compression enabled by mobile technologies has shrunk our time and space into instantaneousness in which multiple identities and multiple activities are being managed in one simultaneous moment.
2. Hybrid self is inclined to shallowness. Instantaneousness, simultaneity, and consequent distraction along with our constant need for connectedness eventually lead to shallow and short-lived relations and experiences.
Snapshot-like, shallow, and forgettable are the digital traces of our selves embodied in our online narratives. Hybrid space is overcrowded by the successive sketches of our multiplied selves. As too many people share too many moments, they become redundant, so even a close friend may feel overloaded or not sincerely attached.
3. In order to satisfy their ontological need for reflection by others, encapsulated in likes and dislikes, residents of hybrid space exploit the potential of mobile technologies, such as high-quality live streaming. Thus, we are currently witnessing a growing tendency towards streaming instead of sharing.
In hybrid space both, ordinary and exceptional contents find their followers or audiences. We share photos, selfies, and tweets or stream live pictures of whatever we do – banalities on the rise.
4. The hybrid consumer is consuming myriads of impulses while on the move. The ability to withstand, distinguish, sort, and comprehend, involves acknowledging both the blurred lines between space and place, private and public, work and leisure and the technology-mediated bases of the space we live in.
Mobile technology is a ubiquitous, generally accepted and beloved black box. The awareness of receiving only a part of the picture and acquisition of some basics of mobile media literacy should become one of the basic skills and knowledge, a part of cognitive hygiene.
5. Unreflexive, enchanted hybrid habits make us happy but vulnerable.
Are Alexa, Siri and Cortana showing us the way out or locking us in? Marketers would surely appreciate a ‘little help’ from technology in persuading customers to acquire their products while consumer culture theorists would probably issue warnings.
Where do hybriders stand?
Where do YOU stand?
My paper is indeed provocative. It aims not only to give answers but above all to invoke questioning, i.e. to start a fruitful and passionate debate. A debate about something we all experience but cannot put into words.
Read the original research article: Šimůnková, K. (2019). Being hybrid: a conceptual update of consumer self and consumption due to online/offline hybridity. Journal of Marketing Management. https://doi.org/10.1080/0267257X.2019.1573844
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