Peer Pressure or Shared Pressure?

Are lived spaces the same thing as virtual spaces? As a matter of fact, what is a virtual space? does this sensation make it real? so then what is real? These are the questions i aim to explore in the following weeks to come, today I will be focusing on virtual emotion- affective technologies.

So far so good i have spoken about how the idea of community has changed in the context of todays society as a result of how digital technology highly mediates our way of lives. I went on to talk about how we come to make sense of ourselves within these digital communities through our avatars. At this point, we cannot afford to talk about immersion without bringing up the emotions that are apparent in these spaces and how they affect ‘digital’ bodies. So to begin with, what is affect?

Affect therefore precedes emotions; affect is not conscious, but it has a dynamism, a sociality or social productivity. The effects of affect, however, are not predictable: affective change from passivity to activity, from inertia to motivation, for example, is not reducible to a single stimulus

Affect is an intangible visceral force that is innate within us; in my last post I explained that affect is evidence that suggests the coherence that exist between the mind and the body and how this enables us make sense of our ‘self’- our Subjectivity. Affect in the long run determines how we view the world because these are innate emotions that continually learn about the world around us and respond according to the script that is informed by our experiences. For example, when Tola was five years old, she had a horrible experience with spiders once and since then she has had a very strong phobia for spiders that is still apparent in her twenties. This fear of spiders has been infused into Tola’s Affect script thus making her senses- mind and body react to spiders in a fearful manner. Affect are those emotions we don’t understand but come to understand through language- these emotions although innate have today been determined by definition through social construct. We are taught how to love, we are taught what to hate and how anger is supposed to be felt- so then is affect nurtured or natured? Digital media in todays capitalist structure intensifies this affective education. The use of emoticons is one evidence that supports my claim here. Emoticons are animated emotions on our mobile devices that we can use to depict how we are feeling. Emotions have now been classified into simple animations, this in itself is a form of affective education- the simplification of innate emotions to animated images shows us what for instance, what love looks like and even disgust. The emoticons present on our phones match perfectly with Tomkins 9 categories of affect. Tomkins highly invested much of his work into the affect theory. Tomkins categories include the positive affects; interest and enjoyment/joy, the neutral affect; surprise, the negative affects; fear, distress/anguish, anger/rage, dissmell, disgust and shame/hallucination. On the apple software, which is what i use and prefer, there is a characterisation of all these emotions and even more so on the recent keyboard update that has now added a middle finger emoji, this form of education taking the form of expression is how we can come to make sense of digital ‘affect’, networked affect, performance however, is key to the understanding of a networked affect.

Affect is this force that is within and without. It moves us toward something or away from something. Like when we come across the smell of rotten food our bodily reactions are that of disgust and we want to get away from such smell quickly. This comes to play in our interaction with the world outside ourselves. We move towards stimulants that create positive affects and away from stimulants that create negative affects. Social construction is evidence that suggest that affect is not subjected to just one individual but can be spread across a community- in other words affect can be networked. This is what we can come to call crowd mentality. Peters and Kashima define this idea of crowd mentality as affective diffusion-

Although affect diffusion is universally considered a form of social influence that involves the social acquisition or transfer of affective states, there is little consensus around its precise nature…..We define affect diffusion as a process whereby one person’s affective action—that is, an action that reflects or provides information about his or her current affective state—leads another person to experience a congruent affective state

From the term, ‘affect diffusion’, this already suggest a process of the dissemination of emotions from one source outwards- diffusion. for this process to be effective there are two(2) requisites; the expresser and the audience. A third part Peter and Kashima added to this process of affective diffusion is empathy. As established in the beginning, we cannot afford to explore immersion without the consequences of emotional engagement. Empathy in this sense is the emotion that flows from an understanding of the relevance of the target from the expresser’s well being. How these three work together coupled with performance in the digital space boils down to the emotional attachment to be a part of this process, the desire to perform this process so as to feel a-part-of something or group. The process of affective diffusion is fuelled by the desire to belong. the term belonging suggests both identification and a sense of shared imaginary possessions or belongings (Ferreday, 2009, 29). As pointed out by Ferreday, this term belonging come from a sense of identification of shared cultural practices  with others, affect suggests we move towards these groups as a way of searching for the positive affects.

the desire for some sort of attachment, be it to other people, places, or modes of being, an the ways in which individuals and groups are caught within wanting to belong, wanting to become, a process that us fuelled by yearning rather that the positing of identity as a stable state. (Probyn, 1996, 19)

This desire for attachment intensifies the process of affective diffusion in digital space and affective technologies take advantage of this affective economy.

Affective technologies intensify this networked affect. World of Warcraft as an affective technology creates an environment of belonging from the creation of your personal avatar to the environment or world where this character is placed, or belongs. I chose to be a dwarf in the game and i was placed in a world that belonged to the dwarves, to defend the land from being taken by Orks. I already felt a part of this world merely by seeing all these other characters that all chose to be a part of this world, its creates a form of community of dwarves that is secluded from all the other races- human, elves etc and from my post on communities, there appears to be a contract of a common project in mind, to fight and defend the land that belongs to the dwarves. This common project increases my desire to increase my avatars level on the game so i can go on to do bigger options, this is what brings me back to the game all the time. Social media is one affective technology that we can use to understand this process and i will explain this process on social media by focusing on trends or hashtags as a means of affective diffusion. The most popular hashtags on twitter become trends. These ‘trends’ are evidence of affective diffusion in that they suggest the congruence of a particular topic or interest. The more these trends appear on our timeline, the more moved we are to think or even tweet about this topic and the more these topics generate more traffic hence, the construction of affective diffusion.

Some signs, that is, increase in affective value as an effect of the movement between signs: the more they circulate, the more affective they become, and the more they appear to contain affect. (Ahmed, 2004, 120)

Textual representations of our affects in the form of the ‘like’ button on Facebook which is a ‘thumbs up’ or as on twitter in form of a ‘heart’ shape become problematic because this cultural practice in digital space simplify affect as pre-discursive. Affect is not something we reason but is something we act out. The implications of simplifying emotions to animations has profound effects on our subjectivity because our senses adapt and change as our cultural practices change. So are we ever really ourselves in these digital spaces or simply textual representation like our emotions? how about you answer this for yourself.

..emotions do things, they align individuals with communities-or bodily space with social space-through the very intensity of their attachments. Rather than seeing emotions as psychological dispositions, we need to consider how they work, in concrete and particualra ways to mediate the relationship between the psychic and the social, and between the social and the collective. (Ahmed, 2004, 119)

Sara Ahmed.

 

Bibliography

Ahmed, S. ‘Affective Economies’. Social Text 22.2 79 (2004): 117-139. Web.

Ferreday, D. (2009) Online Belongings. Oxford: Peter Lang

Probyn, Elspeth. Outside Belongings. New York: Routledge, 1996. Print.

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