Ambient awareness is a term used by social scientists to describe a new form of peripheral social awareness. This awareness is propagated from relatively constant contact with one’s friends and colleagues via social networking platforms on the Internet. Marketing professor Andreas Kaplan defines ambient awareness as ‘awareness created through regular and constant reception, and/or exchange of information fragments through social media.’
The term essentially defines the sort of omnipresent knowledge one experiences by being a regular user of media outlets that allow a constant connection with one’s social circle. According to Clive Thompson of ‘The New York Times,’ ambient awareness is ‘very much like being physically near someone and picking up on mood through the little things; body language, sighs, stray comments…’ Therefore, in effect two friends who regularly follow one another’s digital information can already be aware of each other’s lives without actually being physically present to have a conversation.
Socially speaking, ambient awareness and social media are products of the new generations who are being born or growing up in the digital age, starting in the late 1990s. Social media is personal media (what you’re doing in the moment, how you feel, a picture of where you are) combined with social communication. Social media is the lattice work for ambient awareness. A significant feature of social media is that it is created by those who also consume it. Mostly, those participating in this phenomenon are adolescents, college age, or young adult professionals.
According to Mimi Ito, a cultural anthropologist, the mobile device is the primary means of distributing Social Media. She reports, ‘teenagers capture and produce their own media, and stay in constant ambient contact with each other…’ using mobile devices. Usually while doing this they are consuming other forms of media such as music or video content via their iPods or other similar devices. Effectively this has led social scientists to believe that learning and multitasking will have a new face as the products of the digital generation enter the work force and begin to integrate their learning methods into the preexisting business model.
The earliest available technology that could be used for constant social contact is the cell phone. For the first time people could be contacted readily and at will beyond the confines of their work or home. Later, texting was added. Since text messaging only allows for 160 characters, it paved the way for the status update as we know it today. The transition from only having a few points of regular long distance contact to being constantly available via cell phone is what primed society for social networking websites.
Perhaps the first instance where these websites created the possibility of larger scale ambient awareness was when Facebook installed the News Feed, which automatically sends compiled information on all of a users contacts activities directly to them so that they can access all of the happenings in their world from one location. Becoming someone’s Facebook friend was the equivalent of subscribing to a feed of their daily minutiae. Since this innovation, a new wave of micro-blogging services have emerged, such as Twitter or Tumblr. Although these services have often been criticized as containing seemingly meaningless snippets of information, when a follower gathers a certain amount of information they begin to obtain an ambient understanding of who they are following. This has led to the mass usage of social media as not only a social tool but also as a marketing and business tool.
‘Websites such as Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, among many others, have been used by people in all forms of business to create a closer digital/ambient bond with their clientele base. This is most notably seen in the music industry where social media networking has become the mainstay of all advertising for independent and major artists. The effect of this type of ambient marketing is that the consumer begins to get a sense of the artists lifestyle and personality. In this way social media outlets and ambient awareness have managed to tighten the gap between consumers and producers in all areas of business. As web-based collaboration tools and social project management suites proliferate, the addition of activity streams to those products help to create business context-specific ambient awareness, and produce a new class of products, such as social project management platforms.