Teresa Ovalle

Welcome to Me

The Ambiance of Social Media

on March 9, 2014

When I think of the word ambiance, I think of a soothing place to relax or unwind, perhaps indulge in a glass of wine and chat with family and friends.  The lighting is comfortable; the mood is light, and people are glad to be hanging out with me.  This is a good place – wherever this is.

This is online.  This is me – and you – and the other ‘reported 2.7 billion people – almost 40% of the world’s population’ (Elephant Creative) hanging out in our cyber worlds, ready to engage in conversation from the comfort of our own lives.  This is social ambiance.

The ambiance is the setting or the mood of our surroundings.  In this case, we are in the privacy of our own homes in close proximity to our 2.7 billion family members and friends; they are only a few keystrokes away.   The air is thick with anticipation of the joy of communicating and connecting with a lot of people at once.  The news feeds are active, friends are tweeting and the amount of information you are receiving is almost overwhelming, but it’s not.  You’re used to the feeling of being connected to a lot of people at once.  And it feels like you know them.

That feeling of knowing so many people and feeling connected to them (via social media) is called ambient awareness.  “It is, they say, very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does – body language, sighs, stray comments – out of the corner of your eye.” (Thompson, pg. 3)

The amazing part is that you don’t know these people by speaking to them every day, or even once a week.  You know them from the fragments of information you receive from them throughout your connection to them over time.  As Hermida states, “The value does not lie in each individual fragment of news and information, but rather in the mental portrait created by a number of messages over a period of time.”  (pg. 301)  In other words, you didn’t immediately know your online friends until you collected enough mental pixels of them to form an entire picture in your mind of who they were.

Take a moment to imagine how many mental pixels came through your social media platforms to form the pictures of the people you now call ‘friends’.  Millions upon millions, I’m certain, but did your number of close friends grow?  You know, that hand full of people that you can rely on, trust and depend on to help pull you through a difficult situation?  It’s likely your number of close ties did not expand.

Thompson highlights the fact that, “… their circle of true intimates, their very close friends and family, had not become bigger.” (pg. 6)  This may surprise some of you.  In fact, the group to expand the most in your circle of friends is most likely those with weak ties to you; those who are loosely acquainted with you or those whom you knew less well.  (Thompson, pg. 6)

Weak ties have a special place in our lives.  Because they are not as familiar to us as our strong ties are, it’s likely that our weak ties will have different connections, know different people and will have different experiences to share with us.  I think these differences offer opportunities to connect to new people, new ideas and potentially new communities that can open doors to new prospects.  Weak ties are, “… farther afield, yet still socially intimate enough to want to help you out.” (Thompson, pg. 7)  Weak ties are a large part of the ambient awareness.  It’s likely they are most of it.

To me, ambient awareness is the electricity in the air that fills the ambiance of social media.  It’s the constant ‘noise’ in the background that we get used to over time, but still manage to embrace and pull nuggets of information from to understand better the people to whom we are connected.   Ambient awareness is the ambiance of social media.

“Social media is the lattice work for ambient awareness. Without social media the state of ambient awareness cannot exist.” (Wikipedia)


Thompson, C. (2008, September 5). Brave new world of digital intimacy. New York Times Magazine.

Hermida, A. (2010). Twittering the news: The emergence of ambient journalism. Journalism Practice, 4(3), 297–308.

Ambient Awareness