WP296 ‘New normal’, new media: Covid issues, challenges & implications for a sociolinguistics of the digital

Georgakopoulou & Bolander
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This paper explores (re)configurations in new media communication practices, as they relate to the ongoing Covid-19 global pandemic. We anchor our reflections onto the notion of ‘context’, which, following Hanks (2006), we understand as both emergent and embedded. Foregrounding context allows for a probing of any perceptible shifts and (dis)continuities in the entanglements of time, space, technological environments, and language and semiotic choices online.We thereby engage with context from two vantage points, following Georgakopoulou’s (2007) practice-based heuristic of contextual analysis, that of ‘sites’ and ‘ways of telling’. With regard to the former, we specifically focus on the online/offline nexus. We attest to a process of increasing blurring of online and offline contexts, which involves the material and physical worlds framing people’s online interactions. As we argue, the pandemic reinforces the need to recognize the material and physical in the constitution of context online, by adding the dimension of “compression” (Bolander and Smith 2020). The physical confinement and regulation of bodies and everyday lives during lockdown has impacted online sites, not least because it led to many previously offline activities being compressed into or occurring online instead. This leads to our second major perspective, that of ways of telling. We argue that many of our established, normative communicative practices that were well-suited to pre-pandemic lives in mobility, have changed during the pandemic. These changes are mainly by way of adapting and repurposing existing formats rather than coming up with completely novel ones. Overall, our discussion is partly reflective and partly programmatic, in that we attempt to tease apart some of the ongoing reconfigurations of context, with an eye to trying to understand the effect they are having on where and what we do through discourse online. In this spirit, we also offer suggestions for what we might study as discourse analysts, sociolinguists and scholars interested in new media. We have chosen to include this programmatic perspective, since, judging by previous experience and research on (dis)continuities in language and media (e.g. Herring 2007), it is likely that some of these reconfigurations will ‘stick’ and become consolidated (cf. ‘enregistered’), such that they continue to have an impact on our online encounters with one another, even if and as the global pandemic continues to change.