Tethered Interaction

Technology has been on the forefront of reasons why humans are so detached from reality. It’s not a total misconception since it is the creation upon these technologies that allow for such possibilities to occur. However, we lose sight that technology is our tools and we’re the users. If there is a concrete reason for the cause of this questionable phenomenon, it would have to be that we, the users, decided that is truly how we like to use technology and social interaction is vaguer than we know it. Using the specific example of music players, I’ll be going to discuss the social implications created by our use of technology and argue that technology open the doors for more social interaction.


The article “Mobile Music as Environmental Control and Prosocial Entertainment” (Katz, Lever, and Chen 2008) takes a look at music players and how users use them for social purposes. Using statistical research and other researchers’ data, the authors were able to discover that users “are using these potentially isolating tools in ways that are actually community- and social network-building mechanisms” (p. 369). Katz, Lever, and Chen were able to collect information from interviewing students from Rutgers and the responses they received brought to light the adoption of music players. It is important to note that consumers like to buy products because of what they are potentially used for, but we cannot ignore the social status that comes with the purchase of the product. In one case, one female student admitted to buying an iPod because of its aesthetics and this leads to “individuals’ perceptions of what is popular and trendy feed into their decisions to adopt a technology” (Katz, Lever, and Chen, p. 370). If you look at the video below, you can see the influence of what it means to receive a music player. The girls are ecstatic to have a very relevant item that provides them a certain social status that only iPods can bring about.

Besides using a music player as a social symbol, users were able to facilitate interactions. People like to think that engaging in interpersonal communication is the only form of interaction, but isn’t the conscious effort to avoid interpersonal communication part of the same paradigm? The way we interact with the world or the lack of it is how music players “create a personal environment and control the access of others to themselves” (Katz, Lever, and Chen, p. 370-371). With music players, the distribution of music helps promote users to share the information they possess. Some may share their ear buds with someone sitting beside him/her or share information on where to download a specific song or album. Regardless of how people are able to connect with others using technology, technology can be seen “on a symbolic level… represent(ing) friendship, involvement, and even love” (Katz, Lever, and Chen, p. 375).

Sherry Turkle’s “Always-On/Always-On-You: The Tethered Self” (2008) argues how technology has made its users “tethered” to it so much even when not in direct usage. Turkle’s argument is the agreement that technology is harming our interactions, which is the opposite of what Katz, Lever, and Chen argue. Turkle has been studying the subject of technology usage since the mid-1980s with more than four hundred subjects; her research has been formed through decades. Using personal examples from her life, Turkle explains the problematic format of conversations from digital media. If we look at music players, the only means of conversing with someone that has one is to be familiar with the product or to have one yourself. Turkle believes that “becomes a portal to discussions that take people away from it, discussions that tend to take place in hierarchical tiers” (p. 123). Acknowledging that technology can be a social status, she points out that we rely too much on that potential that “without (technology) we feel adrift-adrift not only from our current realities but from our wishes for the future” (Turkle, p. 124).

A vital point in Turkle’s argument is that technology creates a false identity. While my main argument involves how social interaction is affected, identity can also be a contributing factor. From playing games to using online social media, these are “environments where one can be a loner yet not alone, environments where one can have the illusion of companionship without the demands of sustained, intimate friendship” (Turkle, p. 125). How applicable is this to music players? Do people who tune into music create an environment where there’s a false status acclaimed to it? It’s very possible that people who have music players are not avid music listeners or music fans and it’s even possible that people use them to “seem” occupied. However, I believe the use of technology is not any form of deception different from the very clothes we wear or the personality we present.

The articles I have presented to you discussed technology as a different entity than humans and rightfully so. Though, we should look at technology as extensions of human expression and consciousness. Who is to say that face-to-face interaction is more important than being able to communicate through the means of digital media? Just like how fashion can be a form of self-representation, the ways we use technology can also be the same. When discussing technology, the main focus seems to be the ones that are concerned with social aspects. That is a very vague sub-category where even medicine can be included. Whether our interaction has changed because of the emergence of digital media or not, any form of interaction is beneficial. It is just up to us to see we are not isolating ourselves, but rather we are inviting ourselves to a world we created.

Franke, Mary. 3 Reasons Why Technology is Good For Society. Retrieved April 6, 2014, from: http://www.ercsms.com/2013/06/24/3-reasons-why-technology-is-good-for-society/

Katz, James E., Lever, Katie M., and Chen, Yi-Fan. (2008). “Mobile Music as Environmental Control and Prosocial Entertainment.” In Katz, J. E. (Ed.). Handbook of Mobile Communication Studies. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. P. 367-376

Porter, Sam. (2011, December 26). Christmas Freakout – iPods for Christmas [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9aolBPH2CcE

Riegler, Matthieu. IPod_Family [Photograph]. Retrieved April 6, 2014, from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:IPod_family.png

Turkle, Sherry. (2008). “Always-On/Always-On-You: The Tethered Self.” In Katz, J. E. (Ed.). Handbook of Mobile Communication Studies. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. P. 121-137.


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