Table of Con­tents | Arti­cle doi: 10.17742/IMAGE.MM.12.2.15 | PDF

Lis­ten­ing to and Liv­ing With Net­worked Media Soro­nen / Talvitie-Lamberg

Listening to and Living With Networked Media During a Pandemic

Anne Soro­nen
Karoli­ina Talvitie-Lamberg

This arti­cle explores medi­at­ed lis­ten­ing from the per­spec­tive of inti­ma­cy dur­ing the first weeks of the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic. The the­o­ret­i­cal frame builds on the lit­er­a­ture on lis­ten­ing and pres­ence in medi­at­ed envi­ron­ments, audi­ence engage­ment, and inti­ma­cy as mean­ing­ful con­nec­tions. Method­olog­i­cal­ly, the study is con­nec­tive ethnog­ra­phy, and the data was col­lect­ed by col­lab­o­ra­tive autoethnog­ra­phy. Our data show that lis­ten­ing was an indi­vid­ual sense­mak­ing strat­e­gy of the out­side world and a means to form con­nect­ed­ness. Thread­ing between dif­fer­ent screens on dig­i­tal plat­forms caused the col­lapse of pub­lic and pri­vate con­texts, and through these, par­tic­u­lar types of inti­ma­cy arose. When the posi­tion of aca­d­e­m­ic moth­ers is often that of a ‘know­er,’ the severe cri­sis com­pels them to look for recep­tive ways of know­ing, such as care­ful lis­ten­ing of oth­ers. Lis­ten­ing is a means to form belong­ing and under­stand­ing, but from a silent posi­tion. We should pay more atten­tion to the silent pres­ences and audi­ences in con­tem­po­rary medi­at­ed environments.

L’article explore l’écoute médi­atisée du point de vue de l’intimité pen­dant les pre­mières semaines de la pandémie de coro­n­avirus. Le cadre théorique s’appuie sur la lit­téra­ture, sur l’écoute et la présence dans des envi­ron­nements médi­atisés, l’engagement du pub­lic et l’intimité en tant que con­nex­ions sig­ni­fica­tives. Méthodologique­ment, l’étude est une ethno­gra­phie con­nec­tive, les don­nées ont été col­lec­tées par autoethno­gra­phie col­lab­o­ra­tive. Nos don­nées mon­trent que l’écoute était une stratégie de per­cep­tion indi­vidu­elle du monde extérieur et un moyen de for­mer une con­nec­tiv­ité. Le file­tage entre dif­férents écrans sur les plates-formes numériques a provo­qué l’effondrement de con­textes publics et privés et, à tra­vers ces derniers, des types par­ti­c­uliers d’intimité sont apparus. Lorsque la posi­tion des mères uni­ver­si­taires est sou­vent celle d’une “con­nais­seuse”, la crise grave les oblige à rechercher de manières récep­tives de savoir, comme une écoute atten­tive des autres. L’écoute est un moyen de for­mer l’appartenance et la com­préhen­sion, mais à par­tir d’une posi­tion silen­cieuse. Cela sug­gère que nous devri­ons accorder plus d’attention aux présences silen­cieuses et aux publics, dans les envi­ron­nements médi­atisés contemporains.


The uncer­tain­ty of what to think and feel is an expe­ri­ence many of us have shared dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic. From the view­point of com­mu­ni­ca­tion (research), the excep­tion­al and uncer­tain sit­u­a­tion cre­at­ed a sud­den out­burst of COVID-19-relat­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Sud­den­ly, threats relat­ed to the coro­n­avirus filled all com­mu­nica­tive sit­u­a­tions we could imag­ine: affec­tive social media shares, state coun­cil press releas­es, eye-wit­ness reports on tele­vi­sion, and dai­ly sta­tis­tics on the spread of the virus. COVID-19 filled offi­cial press, human-to-human encoun­ters, and social media plat­forms. Every bit of infor­ma­tion, expe­ri­ences, any­thing about COVID-19 seemed impor­tant. Inter­est­ing­ly, we faced not only infor­ma­tion about and expe­ri­ences of the pan­dem­ic. We faced an enor­mous increase in screen time and time spent at home (e.g., Hard­ley and Richard­son). We reached across screens for sens­ing the bits of COVID-19 com­mu­ni­ca­tion to make sense of the situation.

At the same time, the lock­down forced us to sus­tain con­nec­tions (in work­ing life, in spare time, with our friends, fam­i­ly) through screens, on numer­ous dig­i­tal plat­forms. As recent stud­ies show, the pan­dem­ic has caused a sig­nif­i­cant increase in dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion, includ­ing social media, mes­sag­ing apps, and video con­fer­enc­ing tools (Nguyen et al. 2020; see also Kemp; Koeze and Pop­per). What became evi­dent is that our every­day life was sud­den­ly filled with screens and cap­ti­vat­ing, dis­turb­ing, and woe­ful voic­es aris­ing out of them. Con­se­quent­ly, it seemed that a spe­cif­ic atten­tion econ­o­my arose in the mid­dle of the screens, with their com­pet­ing voic­es and some undertones.

The main symp­tom of our medi­a­tized envi­ron­ments (Couldry 2009) is that in and through dig­i­tal plat­forms we encounter a vast array of voic­es that would deserve an atten­tive ori­en­ta­tion towards them. As Hon­neth argues, indi­vid­u­als aim­ing to become part of a soci­ety are deeply depen­dent on recog­ni­tion. Var­i­ous dig­i­tal plat­forms inten­si­fy the quest for recog­ni­tion. Through recog­ni­tion, we may form belong­ing in var­i­ous social real­i­ties (Hjar­vard; Kaare and Lund­by). Con­se­quent­ly, the voice and the capac­i­ties for lis­ten­ing are cru­cial com­po­nents when liv­ing in a medi­at­ed soci­ety (Hjar­vard; Kaare and Lund­by). Indeed, in cul­tur­al stud­ies, a key idea has been that those who are oppressed and exclud­ed need to be heard. Accord­ing­ly, lit­er­a­ture on the pol­i­tics of lis­ten­ing uses the con­cept of voice to high­light the eman­ci­pa­to­ry idea that for pre­vi­ous­ly silenced indi­vid­u­als and minori­ties, hav­ing a voice is a way to pow­er and agency (Wei­d­man; Lawy).

Accord­ing to Couldry, the dis­course of “hav­ing the voice”—the voice with­out any process­es for lis­ten­ing and reg­is­ter­ing it—can become “the banal oxy­moron of neolib­er­al democ­ra­cy” (Couldry 2009 581). Fol­low­ing him, the mere voice is not what counts, but more the abil­i­ty to lis­ten, rec­og­nize, under­stand, and be co-present. In this arti­cle, we focus on spe­cif­ic com­mu­ni­ca­tion sit­u­a­tions dur­ing a glob­al cri­sis, in which the lis­ten­ing was inten­si­fied and enabled recep­tive ori­en­ta­tion to ‘oth­ers’ (famil­iar and unfa­mil­iar oth­ers). At the same time, lis­ten­ing was a cen­tral part of cop­ing with change and fac­ing fears: it made our rela­tion to the world pos­si­ble alto­geth­er. We aim to widen the knowl­edge of lis­ten­ing in and through medi­at­ed envi­ron­ments as a mode of inti­ma­cy in excep­tion­al circumstances.

Theoretical background

In the begin­ning of the 2000s, many stud­ies of dig­i­tal cul­ture priv­i­leged the user as an active doer. Con­se­quent­ly, terms like DIY media prac­tices and par­tic­i­pa­to­ry cul­ture (Jenk­ins) high­light­ed users’ active agency, such as pro­duc­ing and shar­ing the con­tent. New dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nolo­gies enabled voic­es for pre­vi­ous­ly silenced and invis­i­ble ones, from the bot­tom up. Ide­al­is­tic hopes of improved cit­i­zen par­tic­i­pa­tion arose (see Gill­mor et al.). Mean­while, media schol­ars took notice of the role of lurk­ing as online engage­ment in which users observe oth­er users’ dis­cus­sions but rarely or nev­er con­tribute to them (Craw­ford 2011). Lurk­ing was per­ceived as con­tin­u­ous with or near­ly sim­i­lar to sense­mak­ing prac­tices that peo­ple were already involved in with broad­cast media. As a mode of par­tic­i­pa­tion lurk­ing was under­stood as rel­a­tive­ly unin­ter­est­ing com­pared to users’ vis­i­ble pro­duc­tion of con­tent. How­ev­er, some inter­net researchers indi­cat­ed that active post­ing in online com­mu­ni­ties is the work of only a few, and the major­i­ty of users are main­ly ‘lurk­ers’, observ­ing and fol­low­ing oth­ers’ activ­i­ties (e.g., Non­necke and Preece). They described lurk­ing as a form of recep­tive­ness and par­tic­i­pa­tion that is cen­tral to the dynam­ics of online com­mu­ni­ties (Craw­ford 2011).

The user-cen­tered per­spec­tives of media stud­ies have con­tributed to under­stand­ing the user as an expres­sive and cre­ative actor engaged in mak­ing sense of self by cre­ative­ly writ­ing them­selves into being in dif­fer­ent net­works (e.g., Bech­mann and Lom­borg 775). These stud­ies have pro­duced essen­tial knowl­edge about par­tic­i­pa­tion and “pro­dusage” (Hine 2017) in dig­i­tal and social media, but, at the same time, they have to a large extent ignored oth­er impor­tant aspects of media uses that are clos­er to the posi­tion of audi­ence­hood. As Chris­tine Hine (2017) states, to explore net­worked life as an embed­ded social phe­nom­e­non and as a com­po­nent of con­tem­po­rary lived exis­tence, we need to acknowl­edge diverse forms of engage­ment with online spaces, includ­ing their roles in people’s cal­i­bra­tion of them­selves as social beings. Rela­tion­ships man­aged through net­worked media are always part of a broad­er bond of social prox­im­i­ties and dis­tances, medi­at­ed pres­ences and absences bleed­ing beyond any bina­ry divi­sions between the online and the offline (Paa­so­nen 2021 53).

Since the rapid emer­gence of Web 2.0, the ques­tion of how media uses are mean­ing­ful to audi­ences-as-prac­ti­tion­ers has been recon­fig­ured many times. Joke Her­mes has argued that new media ecol­o­gy demands an open approach to audi­ence­hood as prac­tices that high­light the­mat­i­cal­ly orga­nized media uses. Her­mes sug­gests the­o­riz­ing audi­ence­hood as a lay­ered palette of activ­i­ties, attach­ments, and invest­ments, wide­ly dif­fer­ing in inten­si­ty and impor­tance, pay­ing atten­tion to how audi­ence­hood is caught up in every­day social rela­tions (Her­mes 115-116). The idea of under­stand­ing audi­ence­hood as prac­tices, invest­ments, and attach­ments, cap­tures well every­day uses of media in an ever-chang­ing media envi­ron­ment in which fleet­ing atten­tion is a major form of invest­ment (ibid., 114). Appli­ca­tion and plat­form-ori­ent­ed media use have in many cas­es side­lined the the­mat­i­cal­ly orga­nized use of media. How­ev­er, the idea of audi­ence­hood as invest­ments and attach­ments still offers a lot of poten­tial for inves­ti­ga­tion, espe­cial­ly dur­ing the ongo­ing pan­dem­ic, when the the­mat­i­cal­ly orga­nized use of media focus­ing on COVID-19 infor­ma­tion inter­min­gles with the plat­form and appli­ca­tion ori­ent­ed uses of media technologies.

Sur­pris­ing­ly, much of the research on social media still seems to priv­i­lege the user as a pro­duc­er, as in, for exam­ple, the stud­ies on social media influ­encers and micro­celebri­ties (Reade; Jer­slev). Anja Bech­mann and Stine Lom­borg assess that less vis­i­ble, audi­ence-like engage­ment pat­terns with dig­i­tal and social media are under-researched areas. Accord­ing to them, social media research prefers to focus on what is read­i­ly and eas­i­ly observ­able. They state that more stud­ies are need­ed that deal with the mean­ings of read­ing social media with­out engag­ing in inter­ac­tion with peers through con­tent creation.

Against these preva­lent schol­ar­ly approach­es to every­day uses of dig­i­tal media, Nick Couldry and Kate Crawford’s sug­ges­tions for per­ceiv­ing online media users as lis­ten­ers who pay atten­tion and rec­og­nize oth­ers’ accounts of their expe­ri­ences and lives deserve more empir­i­cal explo­ration. Couldry (2015) has offered an idea to approach the media envi­ron­ment in a way that high­lights the media’s social pres­ence in our every­day lives. He con­sid­ers our prac­tices with­in and toward the media envi­ron­ment through the metaphor of lis­ten­ing, which aims to involve a com­plex mix of engage­ment and dis­en­gage­ment, enjoy­ment and dis­taste (Couldry 2015). Medi­at­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tion is per­ceived as a rela­tion­al space of inter­act­ing prac­tices and posi­tions, a space of recog­ni­tion, refusal, con­nec­tion, and dis­sent (O’Donnell et al., 423). Lis­ten­ing, or “lis­ten­ing out,” is the act of rec­og­niz­ing what oth­ers have to say, rec­og­niz­ing that they have some­thing to say, or that they have the capac­i­ty to give an account of their lives that is reflex­ive and con­tin­u­ous, an embod­ied and rec­i­p­ro­cal process of reflec­tion (Couldry 2009 579-80). In the process of rec­og­niz­ing our claims on each oth­er as reflex­ive human agents, an account of lives that needs to be reg­is­tered and heard, our sto­ries end­less­ly entan­gle in each other’s sto­ries. Couldry empha­sizes that through lis­ten­ing, the val­ue of voice is mutu­al­ly reg­is­tered between peo­ple (Couldry 2009 580). Con­se­quent­ly, lis­ten­ing involves eth­i­cal and rela­tion­al stances towards others.

Craw­ford fur­ther devel­ops Couldry’s con­struc­tion of lis­ten­ing in the con­text of social media. Craw­ford pro­pos­es the metaphor of lis­ten­ing to ana­lyze forms of engage­ment and pay­ing atten­tion online. As she states, lis­ten­ing has not been giv­en suf­fi­cient con­sid­er­a­tion as an effec­tive prac­tice of inti­ma­cy, con­nec­tion, oblig­a­tion, and par­tic­i­pa­tion online (527). It is a cen­tral part of expe­ri­ences of being and con­nect­ing in net­worked envi­ron­ments. Craw­ford describes lis­ten­ing as a mode of recep­tive­ness in which peo­ple con­tribute to the com­mu­ni­ty by act­ing as a gath­ered audi­ence that moves between the states of lis­ten­ing and dis­clos­ing online (Craw­ford 2009).1As a cen­tral part of the net­worked engage­ment, lis­ten­ing involves a deep sense of con­nec­tion and shift­ing alter­na­tions between action and dis­trac­tion. For exam­ple, lis­ten­ing to net­works through mobile phones involves shifts in atten­tion and pres­ence across mul­ti­ple plat­forms (Craw­ford 2012 220). With­out call­ing online engage­ment a form of lis­ten­ing, Susan­na Paa­so­nen also illus­trates how dis­trac­tion and atten­tion inter­mesh in our attach­ments dur­ing the use of social media. Accord­ing to her, atten­tion and dis­trac­tion are vari­a­tions in the inten­si­ties and zones that people’s per­cep­tion and expe­ri­ence take (Paa­so­nen 2021, 65). Vary­ing degrees of pay­ing atten­tion online, and the con­stant flow of small pieces of infor­ma­tion, cir­cu­late to form a crit­i­cal part of expe­ri­enc­ing pres­ence in a net­worked media envi­ron­ment (Craw­ford 2009 528).

The pan­dem­ic caused a sig­nif­i­cant change in every­day media prac­tices. As Jess Hard­ley and Ingrid Richar­son point out, the (habit­u­al) engage­ment with mobile media changed dras­ti­cal­ly, and domes­tic space became the pri­ma­ry site of net local­i­ty dur­ing the pan­dem­ic. They illus­trate how dur­ing phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing in domes­tic envi­ron­ments, the dynam­ics between pub­lic and pri­vate space, work and leisure, and net­worked and face-to-face inter­ac­tion were quite sud­den­ly recon­fig­ured. Hard­ley and Richard­son observe the merg­ing of the public/private space, work/leisure, and net­worked/­face-to-face inter­ac­tion as embod­i­ments of mobile media use. For some of their research par­tic­i­pants, the sud­den col­li­sion of public/private enhances social con­nect­ed­ness and enjoy­ment, while for oth­ers, this bound­ary-cross­ing is more a burden.

But, most impor­tant­ly, this col­li­sion and nego­ti­a­tion of the bor­ders is also writ­ten into every­day prac­tices, such as indi­vid­ual cop­ing strate­gies of what to show/share when zoom­ing. Hard­ley and Richard­son argue that mobile inti­ma­cy emerges as the lay­er­ing of place, tech­nol­o­gy, and social rela­tions. Even though much of their fram­ing of the excep­tion­al sit­u­a­tion res­onates with our COVID-19 expe­ri­ence, it seems that the cop­ing strate­gies that they report­ed are just the oth­er side of the coin (or screen). While a cri­sis sit­u­a­tion inten­si­fied the depen­dence on the net­worked media it also induced a short peri­od of unstrained social media com­mu­ni­ca­tion and a rela­tion­al stance towards voic­es rec­og­nized through screens of sev­er­al devices. The con­stant attune­ment to screens and react­ing to voic­es heard and scenes seen from oth­er people’s homes was excep­tion­al­ly strong dur­ing the ear­ly days of the pandemic.

We, the co-authors of this arti­cle, argue that the pan­dem­ic and its home-cen­tric liv­ing inten­si­fied our attempts to pay atten­tion to var­ied media texts and accounts of oth­er media users in a way that high­light­ed recog­ni­tion and ori­en­ta­tion to oth­ers instead of con­cen­trat­ing on one’s voice becom­ing heard. The mode of lis­ten­ing prac­tices var­ied in rela­tion to their inten­si­ty and impor­tance, but those prac­tices were cen­tral to our way of being. Through them, atten­tion was keen­ly divid­ed between diverse sources and dif­fer­ent screens. The moti­va­tion for these audi­ence-like prac­tices is relat­ed to one’s effort to under­stand the sit­u­a­tion through oth­ers’ reac­tions, jour­nal­is­tic con­tent, and expert opin­ions. How­ev­er, all these infor­ma­tion sources over­lap and part­ly mix to form an affec­tive basis for cop­ing with the uncer­tain and stress­ful situation.

We exam­ine our lived expe­ri­ences through lis­ten­ing in times of cri­sis, when infor­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nolo­gies allow for mean­ing­ful con­nec­tions and vital infor­ma­tion. As Craw­ford sug­gests, lis­ten­ing is a way to under­stand engage­ment and con­nect­ed­ness as a prac­tice of inti­ma­cy (Craw­ford 2009). How­ev­er, in this arti­cle, we do not high­light rela­tions with tech­nol­o­gy, but focus more on liv­ing with dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies and screens when they man­i­fest them­selves with­in inter­ac­tions with oth­er peo­ple or things used in the com­plex­i­ty of mun­dane sit­u­a­tions (see Hine 2020 26). We exam­ine how our cop­ing with dai­ly uncer­tain­ties was inten­sive­ly inter­wo­ven with dig­i­tal and mobile tech­nolo­gies and the deep con­nec­tions they made possible.

To cap­ture the nature of the attach­ments and inten­si­ties that recurred dur­ing a peri­od of ongo­ing online pres­ence, we sup­ple­ment the notion of lis­ten­ing with the notion of inti­ma­cy. Craw­ford describes lis­ten­ing as a prac­tice of inti­ma­cy, but she does not focus on the inten­si­ties and nuances of inti­ma­cy online. We per­ceive inti­ma­cy as a mobile process that emerges as “the kinds of con­nec­tions that impact peo­ple and depend on liv­ing” (Berlant 284). As Lau­ren Berlant sug­gests inti­ma­cy involves an aspi­ra­tion for a nar­ra­tive about some­thing shared, involv­ing one­self and oth­ers. Inti­ma­cy fig­ures promi­nent­ly through con­nec­tions and net­works that mat­ter. In this sense, it is cru­cial to con­sid­er the infra­struc­tur­al role of dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies in the func­tion­al­i­ty of per­son­al, social, occu­pa­tion­al, and col­lec­tive lives (Paa­so­nen 2021 50). In crises, as dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic, pop­u­la­tions and indi­vid­u­als sense that their def­i­n­i­tion of the real is under threat, result­ing in a sense of anx­i­ety about how to deter­mine rela­tions with oth­ers in a com­plete­ly new sit­u­a­tion. On the oth­er hand, lis­ten­ers on dig­i­tal plat­forms, and their efforts to cap­ture oth­ers’ view­points and moods, can pro­duce a strong sense of con­nec­tion and pres­ence. Dif­fer­ent devices, screens, plat­forms, and infor­ma­tion sources, as well as oth­er users’ posts and updates, afford an oppor­tu­ni­ty for mul­ti­lay­ered co-pres­ence that can func­tion as an accom­mo­da­tion to chang­ing circumstances.

Mobile phone users have habit­u­at­ed them­selves to tun­ing into their net­works fre­quent­ly and check­ing the activ­i­ty of their feeds (Craw­ford 2012 218-19). In mobile media prac­tices, var­i­ous forms of inti­ma­cy infuse pub­lic and pri­vate spaces and cre­ate co-present worlds (Hjorth and Lim). Con­se­quent­ly, plen­ti­ful online sources and com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels affect how peo­ple make sense of COVID-19. Even though peo­ple may share the same glob­al infor­ma­tion sources, micro­scop­ic sen­si­bil­i­ties and domes­tic ways of know­ing make them expe­ri­ence the pan­dem­ic local­ly, pri­vate­ly, and as here and now.

Material and methodology

Method­olog­i­cal­ly, the study incor­po­rat­ed (auto)ethnography with­in a con­nec­tive field site. Con­se­quent­ly, as ethno­graph­ic researchers, we con­struct­ed the field of inves­ti­ga­tion where we moved between dif­fer­ent modes of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and spaces (online or offline). Through this process, the researcher can trace forms of social­i­ty accord­ing to the­o­ret­i­cal­ly-dri­ven inter­ests focus­ing on con­tin­gent con­nec­tions that emerge as peo­ple make sense of online activ­i­ties offline and vice ver­sa (Hine 2017 9). The under­ly­ing ethno­graph­ic assump­tion is that we as par­tic­i­pants enter into the social world, which is “cre­at­ed and sus­tained in and through inter­ac­tion with oth­ers when inter­pre­ta­tions of mean­ings are cen­tral process­es” (Emer­son et al. 2). An ethno­g­ra­ph­er learns cul­ture from the inside, through immer­sion (Maa­nen 3; Emer­son et al. 3). Through this process of immer­sion, we pro­duce a “thick descrip­tion” (Geertz 19).

We, the co-authors of this arti­cle, are two aca­d­e­m­ic moth­ers from a Nordic coun­try, and in the fol­low­ing, “we” refers to us. Our data col­lec­tion start­ed with­in a research project explor­ing datafied inti­ma­cies. We wrote diaries of every­day expe­ri­ences in the ear­ly stage of the pan­dem­ic in March 2020. Dur­ing the diary peri­od, we made obser­va­tions about our social­i­ty and con­nec­tiv­i­ty online and offline, and report­ed how our expe­ri­ences of domes­tic life changed dur­ing the first weeks of the pan­dem­ic. In our diaries, we report­ed our dai­ly uses of dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies, and reflect­ed on the sit­u­a­tions where dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies had some role in our rela­tion­ships. Through that, we gen­er­at­ed data on our dai­ly uses and rela­tions to devices, con­nec­tions, and infor­ma­tion resources that Paa­so­nen (2017 25) calls infra­struc­tur­al depen­den­cies. Fur­ther, we also report­ed on our lived expe­ri­ences of phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing. Our inter­est was to seek out sit­u­at­ed uses of plat­forms and net­worked media that we felt were per­son­al­ly rel­e­vant dur­ing the crisis.

We used two meth­ods to pro­duce the data: 1) dur­ing the first data-gath­er­ing phase, we made obser­va­tions of our reac­tions through autoethno­graph­ic diaries; and 2) dur­ing the sec­ond data-gath­er­ing phase, we used reflex­ive inter­views based on the diaries from phase one. Autoethnog­ra­phy enabled us to pay reflex­ive atten­tion to liv­ing the pan­dem­ic life, look­ing at emo­tion­al and affec­tive dimen­sions of dai­ly encoun­ters on dig­i­tal plat­forms (see Hine 2020, 31) that emerged in our lived expe­ri­ences. We kept diaries from March 17 to March 31, 2020. That is, the data col­lec­tion start­ed right after the Finnish Gov­ern­ment declared a state of emer­gency in Fin­land over the coro­n­avirus out­break a few days lat­er, on March 16, 2020.2

After the first data-gath­er­ing peri­od, we want­ed to use a more dia­log­i­cal approach (Her­nan­dez et al.; Geist-Mar­tin; Sawyer and Nor­ris; Toyosa­ki et al.) than the tra­di­tion­al autoethno­graph­ic approach in phase one. We applied col­lab­o­ra­tive autoethnog­ra­phy, which meant a shift to the more rec­i­p­ro­cal col­lec­tive agency (see Lapa­dat 599). The need for rec­i­p­ro­cal agency emerged when we looked back to our diaries after six months of the first diary peri­od, aim­ing to under­stand the com­plex­i­ty and messi­ness of past expe­ri­ences. We inter­viewed each oth­er on the diary entries’ affec­tive­ly charged sit­u­a­tions. In these, we noticed that online pres­ence, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and sense­mak­ing impact­ed us. We gen­er­at­ed this obser­va­tion through con­ver­sa­tion­al inter­views about our diary writ­ings via Zoom. This com­bi­na­tion of col­lab­o­ra­tive autoethnog­ra­phy and diary-inter­view method (involv­ing the diary peri­od and a post-diary inter­view) (e.g. Bartlett; Spowart and Nairn) served best our method­olog­i­cal pur­pos­es. A pre­lim­i­nary analy­sis of the diaries and inter­views com­prised our indi­vid­ual close read­ing of the mate­r­i­al. After that, we dis­cussed each other’s inter­pre­ta­tions of the affec­tive­ly charged sit­u­a­tions togeth­er. Lis­ten­ing was a key con­cept of the research to bet­ter under­stand our lived expe­ri­ences in the data we had col­lect­ed. Dif­fer­ent phas­es of data col­lec­tion formed a func­tion­al approach to our every­day knowl­edge, char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly incom­plete and in progress.

Exploring mediated presence, co-presence and chronic connectivity

The first weeks of the pan­dem­ic con­cretized how domes­tic envi­ron­ments trans­formed quick­ly into the locus of remote work and school, the main­te­nance of rela­tion­ships, infor­ma­tion search, and shar­ing pan­dem­ic expe­ri­ences. Dif­fer­ent media and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nolo­gies were cru­cial for our dai­ly lives with many over­lap­ping con­texts. It seemed that people’s thresh­old of com­mu­ni­cat­ing and post­ing on social media plat­forms became low­er dur­ing that time. Dig­i­tal devices and their screens, var­i­ous plat­forms, apps, and con­nec­tions were essen­tial to knowl­edge work­ers’ work­ing life. Still, their uses had a nov­el focus: scraps of infor­ma­tion about the spread and mode of action of a virus.

The diaries were char­ac­ter­ized by per­plex­i­ty, the incom­plete­ness and fick­le­ness of the infor­ma­tion, and the rest­less use of dif­fer­ent media, as they played an increased role in our expe­ri­ences at the time. There were fre­quent sit­u­a­tions where we felt our con­nec­tiv­i­ty and online pres­ence pri­mar­i­ly by rec­og­niz­ing oth­er people’s (friends, fam­i­ly mem­bers, acquain­tances, and unknown posters) con­cerns, thoughts, and feel­ings. Many pre­vi­ous casu­al and affil­i­a­tion inter­ac­tions on social media plat­forms changed to mean­ing­ful con­nec­tions that offered an impor­tant, reflec­tive sur­face for our thoughts and ques­tions. One of us wrote in her diary: “When look­ing at dif­fer­ent social media posts that indi­vid­u­als are shar­ing, you tend to observe them through some type of coro­na fil­ter, think­ing [about] what their feel­ings and reac­tions in the sit­u­a­tion are.” This quote illus­trates that a recep­tive activ­i­ty of oth­er people’s posts resem­bled a coarse sieve that sort­ed out the pan­dem­ic moods from oth­er expe­ri­ences. It involved intense ori­en­ta­tion to oth­ers’ per­cep­tions and feel­ings relat­ed to the coro­n­avirus in the moment. The com­ing weeks and months seemed to be far away. For a while, in those ear­ly days, the com­pe­ti­tion for oth­er people’s atten­tion on social media changed to more approach­able and invit­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions. The expres­sion of a ‘coro­na fil­ter’ refers to a sen­si­tive and reflec­tive approach to the con­tent received in one’s social media feed. A lis­ten­er might focus on sen­sa­tions and emo­tion­al states aris­ing from the pan­dem­ic and how these ‘resound’ in her.

How­ev­er, the com­mu­nica­tive envi­ron­ment was also cacoph­o­nous. The num­ber of dif­fer­ent apps, plat­forms, and screens used dur­ing work­ing and school days was enor­mous. Through them, fam­i­ly mem­bers kept the every­day going on, but they also asked for var­i­ous types of atten­tion. Hard­ley and Richard­son sim­i­lar­ly point out how the home became, all at once, the cen­ter of every­thing, which “meant rene­go­ti­at­ing domes­tic space as a dig­i­tal place and sit­u­at­ing one­self and one’s things in ways that main­tained a sense of per­son­al pri­va­cy…” (2020). This nego­ti­a­tion was one of the key expe­ri­ences of the time, as one of our diary entries described:

Even­tu­al­ly, we found instruc­tions on how to log in to Meets video con­fer­enc­ing plat­form. Found it from the teach­ers’ mes­sages in Wilma (dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion plat­form between school and home), and in the dis­tance school instruc­tions stored in Dri­ve. The teacher had cre­at­ed an auto­mat­ic link, from which the school­boy even­tu­al­ly got eas­i­ly into the first remote lesson—a feel­ing of relief for all of us. At the first check-in, we [both par­ents] assist­ed. I thought maybe I should have put on day clothes before open­ing the con­nec­tion; the man was in his pants too.

Feel­ing con­fused, sud­den­ly we and our con­fused morn­ing rou­tine flick­er on the screen of the school-at-home class. Who is the dis­tance school stu­dent here? We did not remem­ber to look for head­phones in time, so each fam­i­ly mem­ber pops in and out of our home library, a space where school-at-home takes place. We appear there just like lis­ten­ing stu­dents. Our school­boy got seri­ous­ly ner­vous and showed some [emo­tion­al] expres­sions. After that, we tried to whis­per (except, of course, not our preschool­er). Our school­boy is ashamed; he does not want to trans­mit an over­ly authen­tic stream of images and sounds from home.”

When occu­pa­tion­al, edu­ca­tion­al, gov­ern­men­tal, and famil­ial con­texts col­lapsed into home envi­ron­ments in those ear­ly days of the pan­dem­ic, the actu­al pos­si­bil­i­ties for lis­ten­ing with­out dis­trac­tions were scarce. A pecu­liar way of pay­ing atten­tion in an un-con­cen­trat­ed man­ner devel­oped. This reminds us of the idea of back­ground lis­ten­ing (Craw­ford 2009), as a way to cope with uncer­tain­ties and con­tin­u­ous updates of infor­ma­tion. Hard­ley and Richard­son argue that a hybrid expe­ri­ence of dis­trib­uted and net­worked pres­ences uncom­fort­ably recon­fig­ure the dynam­ics of pub­lic-pri­vate rela­tions with­in the home. This was evi­dent in our expe­ri­ence also. But the col­lapse also cre­at­ed lis­ten­ing that was ori­ent­ed not as much to con­tent (cir­cu­lat­ing) as to forms, mate­r­i­al embod­i­ments, and tech­ni­cal­i­ties of the platforms.

At the begin­ning of the pan­dem­ic, the mean­ing of reg­u­lar social media prac­tices shift­ed. For exam­ple, birth­day con­grat­u­la­tions among Face­book friends proved to be an easy way to affil­i­ate with friends and col­leagues dur­ing the lockdown:

In addi­tion to What­sApp groups, my use of Face­book has increased to some extent. I noticed that although I have felt birth­day con­grat­u­la­tions via Face­book are a lit­tle sil­ly, dur­ing this excep­tion­al sit­u­a­tion, they are again some­how more nat­ur­al, or at least they are not so arti­fi­cial. […] I fol­low online news too active­ly. If I must con­cen­trate on some work mat­ter, I decide that I don’t look at online news for three hours. But on the oth­er hand, the employer’s coro­na info also trick­les into [my] email inbox or oth­er emails that indi­rect­ly relate to the pandemic.”

Chron­ic con­nec­tiv­i­ty” (Gregg xi) and the inten­si­ty of liv­ing with dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies required that peo­ple prac­tice self-con­trol to restrict them­selves from con­tin­u­ous­ly (obses­sive­ly) mon­i­tor­ing news and sto­ries about the coro­n­avirus even while these were per­va­sive­ly cap­tur­ing the screens of lap­tops and mobile phones. As the dai­ly world was filled with COVID-19 updates and guid­ance from dif­fer­ent sources, it was impos­si­ble to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between the use of home com­put­er and work com­put­er, since both oper­at­ed as repos­i­to­ries of coro­n­avirus information.

Lis­ten­ing was our way of relat­ing to the world; it also high­light­ed the thriv­ing growth on dig­i­tal plat­forms we encounter in our dai­ly lives. The fol­low­ing diary note exem­pli­fies this and the affects it raises:

We find that an online web­cam on the snakes, awak­en­ing in the spring, has been re-opened. Despite our long wait, the snake seems not to appear on the screen. My preschool­er is curi­ous and becomes impa­tient. She sug­gests that we should rewind the web­cam stream to the point where the snake appears. I explain that the idea of live stream­ing is that the thing is hap­pen­ing right now, albeit some­where else. She seems to under­stand but sug­gests that we should pause the watch­ing and restart it again once the snake appears. I try to explain again that ”live” can’t real­ly be on a pause. Sud­den­ly I become anxious—what if the snake would slip on the screen, at the exact moment when we are not watching.”

Ini­tial­ly, this episode seems not to have any­thing to do with the pan­dem­ic sit­u­a­tion or with lis­ten­ing. Yet, our inabil­i­ty to keep up with the con­stant flow of con­tent was a key point. It high­light­ed how inter­nal­ized the idea of con­stant lis­ten­ing was, for mak­ing sense of what was hap­pen­ing in the world – through var­i­ous plat­forms avail­able to us. The whole idea that we could pause the watch­ing of a livestream and that some­thing could still hap­pen out there with­out our wit­ness­ing it caused anx­i­ety. In this episode, it was the snake, but in our diaries, we wrote sim­i­lar­ly about the con­stant attune­ment and need to check if any­thing in the pan­dem­ic had changed. End­less watch­ing and lis­ten­ing posi­tioned us as wit­ness­es of an evolv­ing cri­sis, where one could react (for exam­ple, by com­ment­ing) and be remote­ly present but not act. Inter­est­ing­ly, this reminds us of the type of back­ground lis­ten­ing that Craw­ford has dis­cussed (Craw­ford 2009). Through it, one lis­tens to online con­tent as back­ground noise, which only from time to time asks for a more atten­tive ori­en­ta­tion. These occa­sion­al moments cre­ate a sense of inti­ma­cy and aware­ness of dis­cus­sions online (Craw­ford 2009). For us, the end­less lis­ten­ing was a means to ‘know’ the pan­dem­ic, and the shift­ing between dif­fer­ent modes of lis­ten­ing, how­ev­er, cre­at­ed a sense of con­nect­ed­ness. Through this, and as Craw­ford states, lis­ten­ing was a prac­tice of enact­ing con­nec­tions online. We fur­ther not­ed that in the pan­dem­ic con­text, this prac­tice of lis­ten­ing to some­thing online often inten­si­fied mean­ing­ful inter­ac­tion and a sense of inti­ma­cy offline.

Listening and feeling intimacy in a ritual framework

In the domes­tic medi­at­ed envi­ron­ment, ‘lis­ten­ing to’ friends and acquain­tances’ posts inter­min­gled with fol­low­ing jour­nal­is­tic sources and future sce­nar­ios pre­sent­ed by the Finnish and inter­na­tion­al health author­i­ties. In the con­text of soci­etal upheavals, live press con­fer­ences pro­vide a rit­u­al frame­work for releas­ing infor­ma­tion and man­ag­ing pub­lic emo­tions. Accord­ing to Valask­ivi et al. (23-24), as a famil­iar reper­toire of media pro­duc­tion, press con­fer­ences help experts, admin­is­tra­tors, and politi­cians coor­di­nate their actions and mes­sages quick­ly, even while infor­ma­tion­al con­tent remains unpre­dictable. Press con­fer­ences offer rit­u­al sta­bil­i­ty in which they open an imme­di­ate con­nec­tion between the audi­ence and the unfold­ing events dur­ing their rep­re­sen­ta­tion (ibid.). The fol­low­ing diary extract deals with the sit­u­a­tion in which one of us sat on the sofa in the liv­ing room on a week­night and watched the Finnish Government’s COVID-19 live press con­fer­ence on tele­vi­sion. As an audi­ence mem­ber, she was very respon­sive to the con­tent, but many details of the infor­ma­tion fad­ed quick­ly because of the situation’s intensity.

I had already opened this [diary] file yes­ter­day evening to write my thoughts after the Government’s press brief­ing. How­ev­er, I couldn’t write any­thing. The brief­ing last­ed prob­a­bly over one hour, and I decid­ed to go to bed after it. I became a lit­tle moved when the Prime Min­is­ter opened the event and when the Min­is­ter of Jus­tice spoke. The whole sit­u­a­tion felt sud­den­ly more severe than pre­vi­ous­ly. Their man­ners and words simul­ta­ne­ous­ly expressed con­cern, demand for respon­si­bil­i­ty, and, if I inter­pret­ed cor­rect­ly, a dis­guised uncer­tain­ty about Finland’s pos­si­bil­i­ty of recov­er­ing the epi­dem­ic in forth­com­ing weeks and months.”

On that spe­cif­ic occa­sion, the affec­tive and emo­tion­al reac­tion to the offi­cial brief­ing came unex­pect­ed­ly. Inti­ma­cy here emerges from the macro con­text (an unpre­dictable threat of a virus to peo­ple near and far), the micro con­text (the pub­lic­i­ty of the event and the pri­va­cy of one’s liv­ing room), the nature of genre (the rit­u­al sta­bil­i­ty of the press brief­ing), char­ac­ter­is­tics of rep­re­sen­ta­tions (the appear­ances, facial expres­sions, ges­tures, and tone of the talk of min­is­ters on the tele­vi­sion screen), and the listener’s posi­tion as an audi­ence mem­ber in a moment of great uncer­tain­ty. The con­tent received through dig­i­tal tele­vi­sion unex­pect­ed­ly res­onates in the lis­ten­er with­out any ‘sec­ond screens’ or oth­er actions online; right after the sit­u­a­tion, she want­ed momen­tar­i­ly to with­draw from online connections.

The listener’s reac­tions were not based mere­ly on the excep­tion­al infor­ma­tion, such as move­ment restric­tions con­cern­ing the region of Uusi­maa, but also a hunch that soci­ety will not be the same after the cri­sis. On the one hand, view­ing the press brief­ing on tele­vi­sion afford­ed onto­log­i­cal secu­ri­ty that proved to be high­ly rel­e­vant in lock­down cul­ture (Her­mes and Hill 656). On the oth­er hand, view­ing brought on a sense of inti­ma­cy when affec­tive inten­si­ties emerged unex­pect­ed­ly while lis­ten­ing to the author­i­ty talk and by watch­ing so many pol­i­cy­mak­ers lined up onscreen. In this case, inti­ma­cy as unpre­dictable affec­tive inten­si­ties emerged even though this pub­lic dra­ma was eas­i­ly rec­og­niz­able as a form of famil­iar com­mu­ni­ca­tion: a press con­fer­ence. The sit­u­a­tion brought on con­tra­dic­to­ry emo­tion­al and affec­tive states because being ‘moved’ by the expla­na­tions seemed to turn up in the ‘wrong’ con­text: in most cas­es, author­i­ties’ press brief­in­gs are asso­ci­at­ed with the neu­tral release of infor­ma­tion instead of engen­der­ing the sense of being affec­tive­ly touched by the things heard and seen. If the politi­cians’ pur­pose was to cre­ate “more intense audi­ence involve­ment in the rit­u­al of pub­lic dra­ma” (Valask­ivi et al. 23), they suc­ceed­ed very well. The excerpts above illus­trate how some­thing we felt as inti­ma­cy emerged as an affec­tive and rela­tion­al ori­en­ta­tion in a sit­u­a­tion where the words said (includ­ing the over­whelm­ing­ly con­stant dig­i­tal infor­ma­tion flow that was unchar­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly high­ly offi­cial), and the listener’s deeds or thoughts were slight­ly unbalanced.

Our means of adjust­ing to the infor­ma­tion we lis­tened to were occa­sions we felt as inti­mate moments of engage­ment. They involved an expe­ri­ence of shar­ing and belong­ing with fam­i­ly mem­bers or with oth­er Finnish peo­ple in their domes­tic envi­ron­ments watch­ing the same brief­ing at the same time: “The whole fam­i­ly at home, watch­ing the news and the press con­fer­ence, I don’t remem­ber such a com­mon focus for a while. It, there­fore, feels some­how com­fort­able and safe” (an extract from the diary). The lock­down brought out our deep depen­dence on dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion plat­forms in every­day lives, which the diaries illus­trate. These plat­forms, and the cir­cu­la­tion of con­tent between dif­fer­ent plat­forms, also gen­er­at­ed moments of emo­tion­al attach­ments to affect­ing sto­ries, with­in and out­side the plat­forms. The plat­forms were, in this sense, a breed­ing ground for inti­ma­cies that took place not just in our own homes but elsewhere—in our attempts to for­mu­late shared day-to-day cap­tured moments, alone or togeth­er with fam­i­ly members.

In many cas­es, attune­ment to another’s voice and its tones enabled us to pull through dai­ly anx­i­eties. The diaries also involve lis­ten­ing sit­u­a­tions, which inten­si­fied the listener’s social stress and anx­i­ety. There, the lis­ten­ing was atten­tive and recep­tive, but it result­ed in expe­ri­enc­ing demand­ing emo­tion­al states. The anx­i­ety arose from the merg­ing of close inter­per­son­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion with work-relat­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tion, as well as offi­cial com­mu­ni­ca­tion from nation-state author­i­ties, result­ing in an imbal­ance of the listener’s attune­ment to any of the spe­cif­ic sources and mes­sages received. These atten­tive modes of lis­ten­ing emerged in domes­tic envi­ron­ments, in which we wit­nessed close lis­ten­ing to dig­i­tal chan­nels and their sen­si­tiv­i­ty to incom­ing mes­sages. Hard­ley and Richar­son notice how at home, on mobile devices, the pan­dem­ic caused the enmesh­ing of public/private spheres, and unchar­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly, a flu­id­i­ty among these dif­fer­ent spheres. Diaries doc­u­ment this merg­ing well, and how this caused affec­tive anx­i­eties which we felt as inti­mate instances of listening:

I still try to main­tain inti­mate dig­i­tal rela­tions by call­ing, mes­sag­ing, etc. A new form of remote dig­i­tal con­nec­tions also appears in this set; my hus­band tells and con­veys the coro­na mes­sag­ing (email) of a friend liv­ing in a big city in Europe. The mes­sage, among oth­er things, is a descrip­tion of the dis­tress and despair of a sit­u­a­tion when a girlfriend’s friend has spent a very long time at home wait­ing for some­one to dare to take her deceased moth­er away. Of course, the infor­ma­tion touch­es and moves me. I don’t know why I imme­di­ate­ly think this is some­how intimate.”

This episode demon­strates how a dis­qui­et­ing piece of per­son­al news relat­ed to the social impact of the virus felt inti­mate for the lis­ten­er in a way that involved con­tra­dic­to­ry feel­ings. The lis­ten­er describes how she didn’t expe­ri­ence emo­tions towards peo­ple she didn’t know. She assess­es that her strong reac­tion relates to pro­cess­ing such a sig­nif­i­cant thing as death through emails. Usu­al­ly, email is felt to offer low­er social pres­ence (see Nguyen et al.), but in this case, the effects of an email mes­sage were emo­tion­al­ly intense. In a non-cri­sis sit­u­a­tion, com­mu­ni­cat­ing someone’s death through work mes­sag­ing might have appeared strange. But this episode illus­trates how the cri­sis and its unpre­dictabil­i­ty intrud­ed into work-relat­ed medi­at­ed envi­ron­ments. From the listener’s point of view, the tra­di­tion­al reg­is­ters and loci of lis­ten­ing or attune­ment were sud­den­ly inval­i­dat­ed. Lis­ten­ing as a way of ori­ent­ing one­self relates to imag­in­ing how a bereaved per­son prob­a­bly feels. But more than that, it involves con­sid­er­ing that it is no longer pos­si­ble to dis­tin­guish mat­ters con­cern­ing one’s work from the glob­al health cri­sis and per­son­al des­tinies involved in it. As much as net­worked tech­nolo­gies have changed our sense of avail­abil­i­ty and engage­ment with work, the pres­ence “bleed” described by Gregg (2) seemed to rise to the next lev­el. In our diaries, we doc­u­ment­ed many emo­tion­al over­loads of vary­ing degrees. These entries tell us that lis­ten­ing, as it means to con­nect and under­stand the out­er worlds, is a frag­ile posi­tion. It is frag­ile due to its open­ness. But lis­ten­ing, as a con­stant process where the atten­tive mode varies from a back­ground lis­ten­ing to a high­ly con­cen­trat­ed attune­ment, also brings responsibility.

Concluding thoughts

This arti­cle explores how lis­ten­ing sit­u­ates us as audi­ences in medi­at­ed and net­worked envi­ron­ments, and what this lis­ten­ing pro­duces in a social cri­sis. We build on the pre­vi­ous lit­er­a­ture on inti­ma­cy as a rela­tion­al act and lis­ten­ing to medi­at­ed envi­ron­ments as an open attune­ment. Through­out this arti­cle, we con­cen­trate on how inti­ma­cy and rela­tions emerged in our autoethno­graph­ic diaries and diary inter­views. Using this autoethno­graph­ic approach allowed us to con­cen­trate on our expe­ri­ences of lis­ten­ing. Our data show that by fram­ing lis­ten­ing as an indi­vid­ual sense­mak­ing strat­e­gy for the out­side world, we could also under­stand it as the prac­tice of con­nect­ed­ness and belong­ing in crit­i­cal times.

Con­trary to under­stand­ings of pas­sive lis­ten­ing in net­worked envi­ron­ments, lis­ten­ing proved to be a posi­tion where atten­tive and pas­sive ori­en­ta­tions, as well as modes of lis­ten­ing, var­ied. Back­ground lis­ten­ing (Craw­ford 2009) was a basic lis­ten­ing mode, which was quite con­stant. But dur­ing back­ground lis­ten­ing, the lis­ten­er also took part in the medi­at­ed pan­dem­ic, as a recep­tive wit­ness of the sit­u­a­tion, con­stant­ly in flow. This was also a means to form a sense of con­nect­ed­ness and belong­ing through the shared act of mutu­al wit­ness­ing, both to the out­er world and with close fam­i­ly and friends. Inter­est­ing­ly, as some lit­er­a­ture on the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic has report­ed, the strat­e­gy against COVID-19 has pri­mar­i­ly employed iso­la­tion, which con­se­quent­ly has guid­ed us to stay at home, for “doing noth­ing does some­thing” (Vallee 8). Thus, press con­fer­ences that at the out­set remind­ed us to do noth­ing involved us in doing a lot. This is what back­ground lis­ten­ing as wit­ness­ing is also about. It is a means to form belong­ing, con­nect­ed­ness, and understanding—but from a silent posi­tion, in a sim­i­lar way to the lurk­ers of ear­ly inter­net years. How­ev­er, the posi­tion of the lis­ten­er is silent only at the out­set. As we have explained, it involves chang­ing ori­en­ta­tions to the plat­forms, con­tent, and oth­ers. Par­tic­u­lar­ly in the begin­ning of a pan­dem­ic cri­sis the bound­aries of dif­fer­ent plat­forms and appli­ca­tions lost some rel­e­vance and the main atten­tion focused on con­tin­u­ous­ly updat­ing coro­n­avirus infor­ma­tion as well as the joys and sor­rows that peo­ple shared in social media and oth­er mess­ing services.

Our study sug­gests that we should pay con­sid­er­ably more atten­tion to these silent pres­ences and audi­ence involve­ments in var­i­ous medi­at­ed envi­ron­ments. Lis­ten­ing involves a lot of com­mit­ment and reflec­tive con­sid­er­a­tion. Lis­ten­ers are active par­tic­i­pants in the medi­at­ed envi­ron­ments and in net­worked atten­tion economies. How­ev­er, to be involved in sit­u­a­tions that ask for lis­ten­ing, dig­i­tal media plat­forms play a cen­tral role. In every­day expe­ri­ences, the need for mate­r­i­al know-how of where and how to con­nect is evi­dent, and this we encounter dai­ly. That is the min­i­mum pre­req­ui­site for lis­ten­ing in medi­at­ed envi­ron­ments. But at the same time, paths to dig­i­tal media plat­forms are also a pre­req­ui­site for reach­ing towards a sense of belong­ing. These are also infra­struc­tures of inti­ma­cies (Petersen et al.). They oper­ate as socio-tech­ni­cal affor­dances that mod­u­late inti­ma­cy. Through dig­i­tal plat­forms, we unfold con­nec­tions and relationships.

As a result of our study, we found two types of inti­ma­cy in our medi­at­ed lives at the begin­ning of the pan­dem­ic. First, the lived expe­ri­ence of inti­ma­cy is relat­ed to sit­u­a­tions in which the con­text and things heard are unbal­anced. In these cas­es, the listener’s hori­zon of expec­ta­tions is often dis­turbed, and her cus­tom­ary reg­is­ters of lis­ten­ing are not com­pe­tent to process infor­ma­tion in the usu­al ways any­more. For exam­ple, the pub­lic sphere with offi­cial press releas­es invades the screens of com­put­ers, tele­vi­sion sets, and lap­tops, where­as pri­vate mat­ters may turn up in the mid­dle of work inter­ac­tions. The flu­id­i­ty and inter­mesh­ing of pri­vate and pub­lic spheres often result in sen­si­tiz­ing one’s recep­tive modal­i­ties as the lis­ten­er. Sec­ond, inti­ma­cy emerged as an unsus­pect­ed affec­tive reac­tion dur­ing audi­ence involve­ment. When the lis­ten­er han­dles an increas­ing num­ber of uncer­tain­ties and reflects on the mean­ings of sud­den trans­for­ma­tions, she can react with strong inten­si­ty of affects and emo­tions. For exam­ple, one can be very famil­iar with press con­fer­ences and have some expec­ta­tions about the form of the con­tent. Still, the inse­cu­ri­ty in author­i­ties’ tones of voic­es and ges­tures and facial expres­sions may also bring about a sense of help­less­ness and a momen­tary desire to with­draw from the net­worked connections.

At any giv­en point in our research process, our goal was not to sub­stan­tial­ly ‘know’ every­thing about this com­plex sit­u­a­tion. It was, and is, an ongo­ing process in which the hunger for lis­ten­ing and curios­i­ty to know more and rec­og­nize oth­ers’ voic­es feed each oth­er. When we have felt the pan­dem­ic sit­u­a­tion to be so very flu­id and con­stant­ly vari­able, our ways to ori­ent our­selves and relate to the world hap­pened by accept­ing the blur­ring of many spheres dur­ing the lock­down life. Final­ly, lis­ten­ing was about sub­tle pres­ence, mak­ing sense of the sud­den­ly changed world, and liv­ing dai­ly lives with con­nec­tions that matter.

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  1. Craw­ford intro­duces three modes of lis­ten­ing: back­ground lis­ten­ing, rec­i­p­ro­cal lis­ten­ing, and del­e­gat­ed lis­ten­ing (Craw­ford 2009, 528-30).

  2. In Fin­land, the dec­la­ra­tion of a state of emer­gency occurred for the first time after the World War II.