All over the world customers are craving for meaningful social encounters and a sense of belonging. As technology infiltrates all spheres of life, commercial experiences are increasingly becoming intermediated or experienced entirely in digital spaces, which may impact the way customers experience togetherness and make meaning. A bachelor thesis commissioned by Haaga-Helia’s LAB8 researched how togetherness as an affective state, is shaped through the technology enhanced experiences.
Togetherness as a source of meaning
Humans are social by nature and we seek belonging as well as connection with others to fulfill our social needs. We form bonds with others, and with time, these intergroup relations tend to become stronger and cohesion within the group increases. Emotions influence group cohesion, which in long term promotes mutual understanding and coordinated actions as well as enhances the feeling of belonging.
A sense of togetherness, which can be described as a pleasant feeling of being united with other people in friendship and understanding (Cambridge University Press, 2021), can arise in group experiences, where the feeling of experiencing together in the same place at the same time is enhanced. Thus, leading to a heightened feeling of experiencing together. These kind of shared experiences are also referred to as we-experiences, where one feels more like a we, instead of an I.
Online environments are an extension of our everyday lives, and many online encounters describe a sense of togetherness. Osler (2020) argues, that once a sense of togetherness among the group members becomes established, a we-experience can occur in online environments. This means, that especially within one’s close social circles or in other groups one identifies strongly with, the need for belonging and social encounters can potentially be met in the digital world, and used as a driver for enhanced meaningfulness.
Experimental pilot study on online we-experiences
The pilot study was conducted between January and April 2021. A subject group was divided into two locations to study the effects of physical distance on felt togetherness during an interactive video call. During the experiment, each participant was harnessed with biometric sensors measuring their level of arousal. The experiment was also being recorded for later analyzing of facial expressions for valence.
The physiological data was complemented with introspective self-reports evaluating one’s emotional state, and subsequently group interviews. In the analysis, the subjective experience of togetherness was examined and then reflected against the biometric data to detect synchronized alterations in the activity of the autonomic nervous system.
The results of the pilot study were promising when evaluating the possibility for a sense of togetherness to occur in an online environment. The mean value of the subjective sense of togetherness during the experiment was 4,46 (median value: 4,38) on a scale of 1-5. This signals that the means of communication will not diminish the feeling of togetherness, once sustained among the group members.
However, the amount of data was too small for drawing complete conclusions from the relation of felt togetherness and synchronization of biosignals (Galvanic Skin Response and Heart Rate Variability), but the results are in line with other studies. Although the feeling of being together was described somewhat different in the interviews, the online environment seemed to have little impact on the results.
Research on group experiences is heavily underrepresented even though the social aspect is often in the core of experience offerings. Despite its complexity, we at LAB8 are investing into the knowledge on this domain, and study experiences, both physical and digital, so that we can reach a new level of understanding meaningfulness through togetherness and purposeful social encounters.
- Cambridge University Press’. 2021. Togetherness. Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus.
- Osler, L. 2020. Feeling togetherness online: A phenomenological sketch of online communal experiences. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 19, pp. 569-588.