From cognition to communication and co-operation: An analysis of the increasing sociality of social media

According to Fuchs (2017) Media are not technologies, but techno-social systems which comprise the social processes of cognition, communication and co-operation, and that any analysis of the changing social significance of new social media should distinguish between the extent to which they ‘allow’ these three aspects of sociality to be ‘acted out’ by users.

Fuchs argues that the distinction between these three dimensions of sociality is a logical one: each layer forms the foundation for the next, which has new qualities.

  • Cognition refers to the knowledge process of a single individual –  in terms of the Web, this involves the individual user simply using a search engine to find information as well as them producing content about themselves.
  • Communication – is based on and requires cognition – this is behaviour based on reciprocal interaction – in which an individual externalises their knowledge and then adapts in response to feedback (at its simplest level). In terms of the Web, commenting and responding to people’s posts is the most obvious example of this.
  • Co-operation – is based on communication and requires communication. This involves interacting as a community based on feelings of togetherness, mutual dependence and shared values. Web platforms which enable collaborative production are an example of this level of sociality.

As far as Fuchs is concerned, any analysis of the significance of social media needs to distinguish between 3 levels of analysis. In fact, he goes as far to say that:

‘The task of empirical studies that are based on theoretical conceptions of the social is to analyse the presence or absence of the three types of sociality in a certain medium.’ (P46)

An Empirical Analysis of the changes to the Web using three dimensions of sociality

Fuchs now presents a comparison the top 20 platforms of 2002 to the top 20 platforms of 2015 in terms of their ‘primary information functions’: whether they allow for only cognition, cognition and communication, or all three: the previous two plus communication. The findings are as follows:

  • In 2002 there were 20 information functions, 13 communication functions and one co-operation function.
  • In 2015  there were 20 information functions, 17 communication functions and six co-operation.

This shows that the technological foundations for communication and cooperation have increased quantitatively, mainly driven by the rise of social networking sites such as Facebook and blogs such as WordPress.

It appears that the web really has become a more ‘truly social’ space… as social media enable the convergence of these three modes of sociality in one space. For example, Facebook allows an individual to create multimedia content at the cognitive level, publish it so that other users can comment on it (the communicative level) and all others to manipulate and remix that content (the co-operative level).

HOWEVER, what the above analysis also demonstrates is that Capital has remained very dominant in the background of the vast majority of the platforms above. Only one website operating in 2015  – Wikipedia – is a non-profit platform, all of the rest seek to manipulate users in order to extract as much money as they can out of them!



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