Navigating the complex social ecology of screen-based activity in video-mediated interaction

Ufuk Balaman and Simona Pekarek Doehler


Task-oriented video-mediated interaction takes place within a complex digital-social ecology which presents, to participants, a practical problem of social coordination: How to navigate, in mutually accountable ways, between interacting with the remote co-participants and scrutinizing one’s own screen –which suspends interaction–, for instance when searching for information on a search engine. Using conversation analysis for the examination of screen-recorded dyadic interactions, this study identifies a range of practices participants draw on to alert co-participants to incipient suspensions of talk. By accounting for such suspensions as being task-related through verbal alerts, typically in the form let me/let’s X, participants successfully ‘buy time’, which allows them to fully concentrate on their screen activity and thereby ensure the progression of task accomplishment. We discuss how these findings contribute to our understanding of the complex ecologies of technology-mediated interactions.

Publication history
Table of contents

Geographically dispersed participants’ video-mediated interactions (henceforth VMIs), require moment-by-moment coordination between individual participants’ ‘private’ (i.e., mutually non-accessible) orientations to screens and their ‘public’ participation to ongoing talk-in-interaction (Heath and Luff 1993, 2000; Jenks and Brandt 2013; Oittinen and Piirainen-Marsh 2015). Such contextual requirements become particularly significant in online task-oriented settings where task accomplishment is largely dependent on the successful management of the coordination work (Balaman and Sert 2017a; Balaman 2018, 2019), and where individual participants’ orientation to the multisemiotic resources (e.g. texts, images; cf. Goodwin 2013, 2018) for task-accomplishment made available through screens may suspend joint engagement in talk-in-interaction, and therefore possibly cause interactional trouble (Brandt 2011; Brandt and Jenks 2013; Balaman and Sert 2017b; Sert and Balaman 2018). In these situations, participants are faced with the practical problem of navigating, in mutually recognizable ways, between social interaction with remote co-participants and the scrutiny of their own screen, for instance when searching for information on a given search engine (Näslund 2016). While exactly these searches are instrumental for the accomplishment of the joint task, they represent a potential source of interactional trouble, as they typically suspend talk, and hence may impede the progressivity of social interaction (Rintel 2010, 2013; Olbertz-Siitonen 2015).

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