As the American sociologist Erving Goffman pointed out, asking “What is it that’s going on here?” about human behaviour can yield answers framed at different levels. These range from our superficial motives to a deeper understanding of what we are “really” doing.
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Sometimes we might be content to explain our online behaviour in purely practical terms, like checking traffic routes or paying a bill. Other times we might struggle to articulate our reasons for going or remaining online.
Why are we continually looking at our phones or computers, when we could be getting on with physical tasks, or exercising, or meditating, or engaging more fully with the people who are physically around us?
The ever-present need to manage our emotions
As researchers of human-computer interaction, we are exploring answers in terms of the ever-present need to manage our emotions. Psychologists refer to this activity as emotion regulation.
Theories of the nature and function of emotions are complex and contested. However, it is safe to say they are expressions of felt needs and motivations that arise in us through some fusion of physiology and culture.
During a typical day, we often feel a need to alter our emotional state. We may wish to feel more serious about a competitive task or sadder at a funeral. Perhaps we would like to be less sad about events of the past, less angry when meeting an errant family member, or more angry about something we know in our hearts is wrong.
One way to understand our frequent immersions into online experience is to see them as acts within a broader scheme of managing such daily emotional demands. Indeed, in earlier research, we found up to half of all smartphone use may be for the purpose of emotional regulation.
To some extent, these uses of digital technology can be seen as re-packaging traditional methods of emotion management, such as listening to music, strengthening social connections, or enjoying the company of adorable animals. Indeed, people in our study used digital technologies to enact familiar strategies, such as immersion in selected situations, seeking distractions, and reappraising what a situation means.
However, we also found indications that digital tools are changing the intensity and nature of how we regulate emotions. They provide emotional resources that are nearly always available, and virtual situations can be accessed, juxtaposed and navigated more deftly than their physical counterparts.
Some participants in our study described how they built what we called “emotional toolkits”. These are collections of digital resources ready to be deployed when needed, each for a particular emotional effect.
Full Article: https://theconversation.com