The aura of face-to-face communication

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Why do people still talk in person? For thousands of years, humans had no other means of communication than their bodies and simple tools. Today, we have a plethora of ways of staying in contact with each other across space and time. And yet, people will not stop interacting face-to-face, flying around the world to
meet colleagues, and inviting friends and family over at regular intervals. The allure of face-to-face interaction has presented a key theoretical challenge since the founding of communication research (Peters 1999), most recently in juxtaposition to computer-mediated communication. In this paper, we revisit the
special quality of face-to-face communication with reference to its aura.
The concept of aura has a long history in religious writings, but was rearticulated for contemporary communication and cultural studies by the German philosopher, Walter Benjamin. In his 1936 classic, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Benjamin (1977) suggested that the aesthetic quality of an original work of art – its aura – derives from its authentic and unique “presence in time and space.” If you want to experience the Mona Lisa, you have to visit the Louvre. At the same time, Benjamin highlighted the democratizing potential of mechanical reproduction: Many more people were now in a position to share in, or oppose, received representations of reality, as individuals and collectives.
Both of Benjamin’s points translate to the digital media environment. On the one hand, face-to-face interaction remains unique, being the only form of human communication in which all participants are united in time and space, relying on multiple verbal and nonverbal modalities and a shared physical context. On the other hand, such interaction is constrained and ephemeral. Only so many people can participate before communication differentiates – or disintegrates – into multi-step flows. Likewise, what is said and done, disappears into thin air (Peters, 1999). The paper outlines a typology of different kinds and degrees of aura that informants associate with different media, including other people as media. Empirically, it builds on a qualitative study of political communication, which identified a continued preference for face-to-face interaction about the news of the day, but which also noted the importance for such encounters of linking to additional information online, and of retracing previous encounters in messaging or email.
All human beings “carry an aura, as informed by their biographies and shared histories” (Jensen 2010: 68), which helps to explain how and why they still turn and talk to each other about the social and cultural conditions they share.
Publikationsdato1 nov. 2018
StatusUdgivet - 1 nov. 2018
BegivenhedECREA 2018 - Lugano, Schweiz
Varighed: 31 okt. 20183 nov. 2018


KonferenceECREA 2018

ID: 209550347