Date of Award

8-2010

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Sociology

Major Professor

Suzanne B. Kurth

Committee Members

Thomas C. Hood, Robert E. Jones, David Houston

Abstract

Cell phones and the Internet have become cornerstones in the daily lives of most Americans. Researchers have rigorously studied numerous dimensions of electronically mediated communication (EMC). Yet, very little research has explored the context and consequences of negotiating multiple forms of EMC within everyday life. The purpose of this study was to explore the impact of everyday forms of electronically mediated communication (EvEMC) – cell phone talk, text messages, instant messages, and email – on self-work, particularly within personal relationships. Results of OLS regression analyses of survey data collected from 617 college students and qualitative data analysis of three subsequent focus groups suggested that negotiating personal relationships with and within EvEMC produces a sense of interstitial copresence, which is an awareness of the convergence of perpetual copresence within a digital environment and presence or copresence within a physical environment.

The findings suggested that interstitial copresence is inherently Janus-faced. EvEMC provided people with a strong sense of freedom and control. However, negotiating personal relationships within interstitial copresence resulted in dissolution of relational boundaries. Consequently, deceptive tactics were commonly used to negotiate self-presentation within interstitial copresence, which had consequences for people’s self-appraisals as well. Since important others were expected to be accessible virtually anytime and anywhere, people with a strong sense of interstitial copresence often had an adverse emotional reaction when important others did not answer their calls or quickly reply to their messages or call or send messages regularly. As personal relationships negotiated within interstitial copresence move toward totality, the consequences for both the self and the relationships become more pronounced. Ultimately, the study concludes that self-work with and within interstitial copresence produces an interstitial self – a relational self that is, at all times, situated within a physical environment and a digital environment, yet never completely in either environment.

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