Sociability through inter-related activities: orienting to time and location in Greek text-messaging

Tereza Spilioti

King's College London, United Kingdom


A shared assumption among users of text-messaging is that the setting in which each participant sends or receives a message cannot be predicted with certainty. This lack of knowledge regarding the other’s context of being and acting creates an asymmetry in communication via text-messaging. In other words, one party in interaction always has little or no information regarding the activities in which the other party is involved and the spatio-temporal context in which these activities unfold. This paper explores how text-messaging interacts with the participants’ ongoing social activities. The study focuses on empirical data collected from three young peer-groups in Athens, Greece. These case-studies follow an ethnographic perspective and concern the recording of temporally-ordered sequences of SMS-interactions, together with participant observation and informal interviews.

Although previous studies (Schegloff 2002; Weilenmann 2003) have touched upon the issue of interlocking parallel activities in interaction, the discussion has been mainly restricted to locational references in mobile phone conversations. Approaching individual messages as texts-in-interaction (Antaki et al. 2005), this study employs methods of conversation analysis to investigate such issues in Greek text-messaging. In particular, I will explore how text-messaging interacts with simultaneously unfolding activities by looking at a common practice among users of text-messaging, i.e. the topicalization of their current location and ongoing activities (Hutchby & Barnett 2005). The analytic focus will be on the linguistic practices that my participants employ in order to orient to each other’s immediate setting, such as the formulaic expressions ‘where are you’ and ‘what’s up’, and the use of place and time indexicals. Furthermore, I will show how these references to the immediate setting capitalize on the lived experience and interactional practices that my participants have accumulated through close and prolonged interaction via text-messaging or other media. The discussion suggests that the practice of topicalizing current location and activities serves the co-ordination of other - ongoing and imminent - social activities. At the same time, I argue that emphasis to each other’s here-and-now allows the co-participants to feel ‘present’ in the other party’s everyday life, even though they are physically distant. This mutual sense of ‘co-presence at a distance’ (Hutchby, 2001) is shown to be paramount for the close and intimate type of relationship that holds between the participants in my case-studies.

Antaki, C. et al. 2005. “For she who knows who she is:” Managing accountability in online forum messages. Journal of computer-mediated communication, 11(1).

Hutchby, I. 2001. Conversation and technology: from the telephone to the internet. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Hutchby, I. & Barnett, S. 2005. Aspects of the sequential organization of mobile phone conversation. Discourse studies, 7 (2): 147-171.

Schegloff, E. A. 2002. Beginnings in the telephone. In: Katz, J. E. & Aakhus, M. (eds) Perpetual Contact: mobile communication, private talk, public performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 284-300.

Weilenmann, A. 2003. “I can’t talk now, I’m in a fitting room”: formulating availability and location in mobile phone conversations. In: Laurier, E. (ed.) Environment and planning A, special issue on mobile technologies and space, 35(9): 1589-1605.

Session: Paper session
Digital language 1
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 04