Violent content online has rightly been condemned. Yet while we criticise those facilitating the supply we rarely talk about the demand. In episode 5 of this series of Digital Human, Aleks Krotoski asks who views it and why.
In this clip Journalist Brianna Snyder recalls an occasion when her curiosity got the better of her, and lead to her being compelled to view extreme content online.
In their 1956 article, “Mass Communication and Para-Social Interaction: Observations on Intimacy at a distance,” Horton and Wohl described both parasocial relationships and parasocial interaction for the first time. They used the terms somewhat interchangeably, but mostly focused their exploration on the illusion of conversational give-and-take a media consumer experiences with a media figure while watching a TV show or listening to a radio program.
This led to some conceptual confusion. Although a great deal of research has been done on parasocial phenomena, especially since the 1970s and 1980s, the most widely utilized scale in that research, the Parasocial Interaction Scale, combines questions about parasocial interactions and parasocial relationships. However, today, scholars generally agree the two concepts are related but different.
When a media consumer feels like they are interacting with a media figure—a celebrity, fictional character, radio host, or even a puppet—during a discrete viewing or listening scenario, they are experiencing a parasocial interaction. For example, if a viewer feels like they are hanging out at the Dunder-Mifflin office while watching the TV comedy The Office, they are engaging in a parasocial interaction.
On the other hand, if the media user imagines a long-term bond with a media figure that extends outside the viewing or listening situation, it is considered a parasocial relationship. The bond can be either positive or negative. For instance, if an individual adores the host of their local morning program and often thinks about and discusses the host as if he is one of their friends, that individual has a parasocial relationship with the host.
Scholars have observed that parasocial interactions can lead to parasocial relationships, and parasocial relationships can strengthen parasocial interactions. This process resembles the way that spending time with a person in real-life can result in a friendship that then gets deeper and more committed when the individuals spend additional time together.
I would spend most of my day looking for articles on relationship issues, taking online quizzes, and ruminating on what I read online,” says Victoria, 23, from Spain. “It was a very tiring process. The relief would only last for a short while – and then the doubts would creep back in.”
Victoria has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). When she was younger, this meant that she was plagued with religious obsessions, and felt compelled to beg for forgiveness a specific number of times every time she did something ‘wrong.’ But over the years, her fixations have shifted toward love and sexual attraction.
Now, Victoria constantly questions whether she is in the right relationship, and regularly doubts her sexual orientation. She spends hours online looking for information to determine whether she is heterosexual and if she really loves her boyfriend. “Google is the worst enemy for people with OCD,” she says, with exasperation. “It’s the perfect vessel for reassurance-seeking compulsions. Googling allowed me to endlessly feed my obsession without anyone telling me to ‘shut up about it already’.”
After a breakup there’s the expectation that you’ll eventually move on. But what if you can’t? What if the impulse to think about an ex became all-consuming — months, even years later? What if it never goes away?
You’ll find a few sufferers of this particular hardship on the “Limerence” subreddit, a message board where the brokenhearted and obsessed bare their souls. Some simply can’t stop thinking about their unrequited crushes: “I probably think about her a hundred times a day,” one user wrote, “right before going to sleep and right after waking up.”
Others remain haunted: “It’s been 14 years [that I’ve been obsessing over her].”
And for a few, the anguish takes a darker turn: “What’s the point of living if 1) I can never have him and 2) I can never get over him?”
Psychologist Albert Wakin, a professor at Sacred Heart University, has spent a chunk of his career studying this type of lovelorn suffering. He thinks the problem is common enough that it’s time for the psychology field to officially recognize that love can veer out of control and enter the realm of pathology. He hopes that obsessive love, or “limerence,” will be included in a future edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM), though he doubts he’ll live to see the day: Psychology and neuroscience research has only just begun to understand why romance has such a potent grip — and why, for all the people who can eventually get over a breakup, there are some who can’t.
At its worst, obsession is an iron mask that permits us to gaze in only one direction at one thing—or, to use another metaphor, a giant tidal wave that crashes through our minds and washes away all other concerns. We may become obsessed with a person, a place, a goal, a subject—but obsession amounts to the same thing in all cases:addiction.
At first, like all addictions, obsession is intoxicating. It fills us up, and what a relief that feeling is (especially if we felt empty before). But even if we didn’t feel empty, obsession makes us feel potent, capable, and purposeful.
But also like all addictions, with time obsession unbalances us. We often begin to neglect parts of our lives we shouldn’t. If allowed to become too consuming, obsession causes us to devalue important dimensions of our lives and tolerate their atrophy and even their collapse. But even if our lives remain in balance, if the object of our obsession is taken from us, as my patient’s was from her, we find ourselves devastated, often convinced we’ve lost our last chance at happiness.
Such was the prescription from indie musicians Amanda Palmer and Damon Krukowski ’85 during an animated discussion about digital creativity Tuesday night at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts.
Krukowski, who came to the Consumer Research Center/store to kick off the tour for his new book, “The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World,” used “noise” to describe the ambient sounds such as air conditioning or breathing that found their way onto analog audio recordings, but he was also speaking of life in the pre-digital world before social media giants’ content streams.
Krukowski, who was the founder and drummer for Galaxie 500 in the late ’80s, worked on the idea of analog versus digital as a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society in 2015-16. By eliminating noise, he argued, digital technology has isolated authentic sound, though he hoped the debate would not be seen as old versus new, or good versus bad.
But Palmer, a rock ’n’ roll performer who has cultivated an intimate relationship with fans on and off social media, wasted no time lamenting the loss. Instead, she commiserated with Krukowski over a shared displeasure with Facebook. She quoted from Krukowski’s book: “Social media have no content to offer other than what their users provide. Yet that information, too, is limited to isolated signal as defined by the platform — a neat trick.” Then she made her own supporting argument.
“I also hate Facebook, and I hate Facebook more and more every day,” she said, bemoaning the algorithms it uses to determine what is signal and what is noise for its 2 billion users.
“Noise is necessary. If we’re going to stay human, visual, audio, emotional noise, it’s what makes life. If you don’t have it, you don’t really even have the conditions for living. If things are signal only, that literally means there is no room for coincidence, synchronicity, kismet, randomness — the things that make life feel realistic,” she said.
How can we explain these exorbitant numbers? Are people unaware of the dangerous health threat tobacco poses? While denial may play a role, mere misinformation is unlikely to be the reason. Anti-smoking campaigns continue to increase, and with cigarette packs featuring printed warnings like “smoking kills”, it’s hard to ignore the fact that fags simply aren’t good for you.
The reason that millions of people choose to inhale toxic fumes every day—against their better knowledge—is the strong temptation of instant rewards such as the relaxing effects of nicotine or social acceptance from peers. The human drive for immediate gratification and the challenges this imposes on our self-control are powerful factors affecting our choices. While little tricks can help us overcome the emotional pull of tempting rewards, long-term success in abstaining from negative habits crucially relies on our level of future-orientation, i.e. the extent to which we consider future outcomes.