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POPC and the good life. A salutogenic take on being permanently online, permanently connected



In times of being permanently online and permanently connected (POPC) via ubiquitous mobile devices, it is a pressing question if such a POPC lifestyle benefits or impairs a good life. To elaborate on this notion, we cast light on the general idea of salutogenesis (Antonovsky, 1979, 1987): not focusing on what makes us ill but on how we stay healthy. We offer a new perspective that takes health-supportive and preventive aspects of being POPC into account, if mobile media are used in a mindful, self-controlled, and meaningful way.
Running head: SALUTOGENIC POPC 1
POPC and the good life.
A salutogenic take on being permanently online, permanently connected
Frank M. Schneider, University of Mannheim
Annabell Halfmann, University of Mannheim
Peter Vorderer, University of Mannheim
To appear in in The Routledge Handbook of Positive Communication, edited by José Antonio
Muñiz Velázquez & Cristina Pulido
Please cite as:
Schneider, F. M., Halfmann, A., & Vorderer, P. (in press ). POPC and the good life. A
salutogenic take on being permanently online, permanently connected. In J. A. Muñiz
Velázquez & C. Pulido (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of positive communication.
London, UK: Routledge.
Author Note
Correspondence concerning this paper should be addressed to Frank M. Schneider,
Institute for Media and Communication Studies, University of Mannheim, B6, 3032, 68159
Mannheim, Germany. E-mail:
In times of being permanently online and permanently connected (POPC) via ubiquitous
mobile devices, it is a pressing question if such a POPC lifestyle benefits or impairs a good
life. To elaborate on this notion, we cast light on the general idea of salutogenesis
(Antonovsky, 1979, 1987): not focusing on what makes us ill but on how we stay healthy.
We offer a new perspective that takes health-supportive and preventive aspects of being
POPC into account, if mobile media are used in a mindful, self-controlled, and meaningful
Keywords: smartphone, social media, salutogenesis, mindfulness, self-control,
meaningfulness, well-being
POPC and the good life.
A salutogenic take on being permanently online, permanently connected
What makes a good life? How can we live well? Achieving and sustaining the perhaps
most fundamental human aspirations has been a longstanding endeavor in the humanities and
in the social sciences (e.g., Delle Fave, 2013; Keyes & Haidt, 2007). Although the various
conceptualizations are diverse, most of them share some central characteristics (Park &
Peterson, 2009). Seligman (2011), for instance, proposes positive emotions, engagement,
relationships, meaning, and accomplishment in his PERMA model as building blocks of well-
being. Ryan, Huta, and Deci (2008) characterize living well as eudaimonic living that can be
achieved by satisfying the intrinsic needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. And
Ryff and Singer (1998) emphasize leading a life of purpose and quality connections to others
but also include self-realization, personal growth, and mastery.
But how is achieving these goals feasible in a digital world with its constant demands
and opportunities? In times of being permanently online and permanently connected (POPC)
via ubiquitous mobile devices (Vorderer, Hefner, Reinecke, & Klimmt, 2018; Vorderer,
Krömer, & Schneider, 2016), it is a pressing question if such a POPC lifestyle benefits or
impairs a good life (Vorderer, 2016). POPC is defined as both “1) an overt behavior in the
form of protracted use of electronic media and 2) as a psychological state of permanent
communicative vigilance(Vorderer et al., 2016, p. 695).
On the one hand, this definition
refers to the neutral observation that our daily life is interspersed with digital (online)
behavior which per se is neither bad nor good. On the other hand, given the fact that human
As permanently using instant messengers (IM) and social network sites (SNS) are the main activities carried
out on smart devices (e.g., Mihailidis, 2014; Vorderer, Krömer, & Schneider, 2016) and provide the most
striking examples of a POPC mindset (Klimmt, Hefner, Reinecke, Rieger, & Vorderer, 2018), research on these
topics is integrated and used synonymously with being POPC.
cognitive capacity is limited, a POPC mindset (Klimmt et al., 2018) may distract us from
focusing on what is important to live well (e.g., by losing ourselves to the manifold
affordances of mobile devices) and even lead to stressful experiences (e.g., Hefner &
Vorderer, 2017). However, it may also facilitate fulfilling basic human needs (e.g., by
intensifying and maintaining meaningful connections to others; e.g., Trepte & Oliver, 2018).
To elaborate on this notion, we want to cast light on an approach that has been
acknowledged in the health literature but received little attention with regard to positive
psychology and positive communication thus far: Drawing on the general idea of
salutogenesis (Antonovsky, 1979, 1987)
not focusing on what makes us ill but on how we
stay healthy, we therefore offer a new perspective that takes health-supportive and
preventive aspects of being POPC into account.
A salutogenic perspective
Most of the research on POPC has focused on (1) the negative aspects of POPC,
conceiving digital media as pathogenic stressors that are directly related to negative effects on
well-being or on (2) positive aspects of POPC like social support or need satisfaction that help
us to cope with pathogenic stressors outside the mobile media realm (e.g., Vorderer et al.,
2018). From a salutogenic perspective, however, “stressors” are not seen as necessarily
negative but as internal or external stimuli that may promote health and well-being. The
medical sociologist Aaron Antonovsky developed the salutogenesis approach in the 1970s
and 1980s as a counter-perspective to the then dominant pathogenic orientation in medicine
(Antonovsky, 1979, 1987). He proposed that the human system should not be conceived as
usually well-functioning and balanced unless it is torpedoed by pathogenic stressors but as a
Please note that we use salutogenic or salutogenesis rather as umbrella terms that comprise the health-
promoting aspects of individuals and society and not specifically as parts of the “model of salutogenesis”
(Antonovsky, 1987).
system that is continuously exposed to unpreventable environmental stimuli. This
permanently dealing with ubiquitous stressors leads to tensions. These tensions, however, are
only transformed into negative forms of stress, if they are not successfully managed. And
managing these tensions mainly depends on internal and external (resistance) resources.
Moreover, the human system can rather be located on an “ease–dis-ease continuum” than
classified into a healthdisease dichotomy (Antonovsky, 1996). Consequently, Antonovsky
(e.g., 1996) argues that the concentration on risk factors and pathogenic stressors has to be
replaced by focusing on salutary factors (i.e., factors that “actively promote health rather than
just being low on risk factors”, Antonovsky, 1996, p. 14).
A central concept and resistance resource in the salutogenic framework is the sense of
coherence (SOC, Antonovsky, 1987). SOC has been found to be a positive predictor of
general health and quality of life outcomes (e.g., Sagy, Eriksson, & Braun-Lewensohn, 2015),
consists of three facetscomprehensibility, manageability, and meaningfulnessand is
defined as
a global orientation that expresses the extent to which one has a pervasive, enduring
though dynamic feeling of confidence that (1) the stimuli deriving from one’s internal
and external environments in the course of living are structured, predictable, and
explicable; (2) the resources are available to one to meet the demands posed by these
stimuli; and (3) these demands are challenges, worthy of investment and engagement.
(Antonovsky, 1987, p. 19)
How can such a salutogenic perspective be applied to the notion of being POPC? We
think it is crucial to examine the connections between POPC and the sense of coherence and
its facets. To understand these links, it is initially helpful to briefly summarize the research on
positive and negative effects of POPC.
Does POPC serve the good life and if yes, how?
Nearly every new medium was accused of having negative effects on its users (e.g.,
reading books and novels in the 18th century, watching TV, playing video games, etc.).
Internet, social media, smartphones are today’s targets of the ever-recurring debate of
pathological and pathogenic media use. And indeed, the research on negative effects of these
media seems to underscore the worst fears: The permanent use of media may create
iDisorders (i.e., clinical symptoms of psychiatric personality and mood disorders; Rosen,
2012). Admittedly, many researchers critically discuss their correlational and cross-sectional
findings as not being evidence for causal relationships. However, what remains is the
impression that especially social media use may have large-scale negative consequences,
although first meta-analyses revealed only very small effects, for instance, on psychological
well-being (e.g., Huang, 2017).
On the other hand, Internet, social media and mobile phone use have also been found
to have positive effects on individuals’ well-being (e.g., Reinecke, 2018). Being POPC may
serve simple hedonic functions that help to regulate emotions and moods and put its users in a
happy state; it may also facilitate the encounter with more complex forms of entertainment
that include meaningful communication (Trepte & Oliver, 2018, see also Oliver and Hofer &
Rieger, this volume).
In sum, the amount of seemingly contradictory findings suggests that the effects of
being POPC rather depend on the media content and features that are used and how they are
used, more than on the medium itself and how frequently or long this medium has been used
(e.g., Verduyn, Ybarra, Résibois, Jonides, & Kross, 2017; Vogel & Rose, 2016). More
specifically, Vorderer (2016) described the current POPC lifestyle as janiform: On the one
hand, we have many opportunities to fulfill fundamental human needs such as belongingness,
autonomy, meaningfulness that support a good life (cf. Park & Peterson, 2009). On the other
hand, “[t]he affordances of new technologies seem to have shifted from an opportunity to
an obligation” (Vorderer, 2016, p. 7). However, whether these affordances are perceived as
(pathogenic) stressors, supporting resources or salutary challenges depends on many
boundary conditions.
What are the conditions under which being POPC serves the good life?
A branch of literature reviews and empirical studies have proposed boundary
conditions and processes under which being POPC leads rather to positive or to negative
effects. For instance, Verduyn and colleagues (2017) suggested distinguishing between active
SNS use that seems to enhance well-being via social capital and connectedness, and passive
SNS use that rather undermines well-being via upward social comparison and envy. In a
similar vein, Vogel and Rose (2016) argued that other-focused activities on SNS (e.g., visiting
the overly positive self-presentations of others) may be detrimental to one’s well-being,
whereas self-focused activities (e.g., watching and editing one’s own SNS profile) may be
self-affirming and self-enhancing, and thus beneficial.
Particularly with regard to a salutogenic perspective, Reinecke’s (2018, pp. 239241)
thoughts about the role of autonomy-enhancing and autonomy-inhibiting features of POPC
merit further consideration. He argues that all kinds of online communication can be seen as
“self-determined and intrinsically motivated forms of behavior” (Reinecke, 2018, p. 439) and
proposes that users with a POPC mindset (Klimmt et al., 2018) may act online in a natural,
autonomously motivated way. Consequently, being POPC may in fact facilitate expressing
oneself and accomplishing goals, thereby fostering well-being. However, online
communication may also result from internal and external pressures (e.g., Reinecke et al.,
2017). In these cases, being POPC could fuel the negative effects of heteronomously
motivated online communication on well-being (Reinecke, Vorderer, & Knop, 2014).
Reinecke (2018, p. 240, emphasis in original) concludes that
the chances and risks of living in the “always on” society not so much depend on
whether an individual is POPC but how and why. On the one hand, being POPC offers
intriguing opportunities for enhanced well-being, particularly when it represents a
form of intrinsically motivated, self-determined, and autonomy-enhancing behavior.
On the other hand, POPC may increase the vulnerability of Internet users and result in
impaired well-being when it is driven by external forces or internal fears and thus
represents an externally motivated and autonomy-impeding behavior.
In fact, a current study found that engaging in mobile communication due to external
pressure to be available reduced users’ autonomy, which, in turn, lowered their well-being
and fueled their stress perception (Halfmann, Rieger, & Vorderer, 2017). Although more
empirical evidence is still needed, these are intriguing assumptions that are in line with self-
determination theory and related approaches to well-being (Deci & Ryan, 2000). To delineate
the “hows” and “whys” of being POPC, we would like to go one step further and expand on
Reinecke’s (2018) ideas. With the facets of the salutogenic concept of SOC
comprehensibility, manageability, and meaningfulnessin mind, we think that three concepts
are of crucial importance to this endeavor: mindfulness, self-control, and meaningfulness.
Mindful POPC
Mindfulness (see also Jones, this volume) can be defined as a receptive attention to
and awareness of present events and experience(Brown, Ryan, & Creswell, 2007, p. 212).
Research provides evidence that mindfulness not only supports autonomous regulation as a
predecessor for well-being (e.g., Schultz & Ryan, 2015) but also directly affects
psychological health (Keng, Smoski, & Robins, 2011).
Weissbecker and colleagues (2002, p. 299) elaborated on the similarity between
mindfulness and the sense of coherence:
SOC has been described as viewing the world as manageable and understandable, and
mindfulness may promote a sense of manageability of the world by fostering more
adaptive responses to stress. Mindfulness practice could also enhance SOC because
moment-to-moment awareness may facilitate openness and making sense of
experiences. Mindfulness may promote a sense of life meaning by simply allowing
space for the exploration of meaning. Defined in such terms, mindfulness may bear a
striking similarity to SOC, and systematic mindfulness practice might be expected to
enhance SOC.
A recent empirical study from Grevenstein and colleagues (2017), who found a high
correlation between mindfulness and SOC, support this similarity. Further studies underline
this connection too (e.g., Glück, Tran, Raninger, & Lueger-Schuster, 2016) and report that
mindfulness-based intervention programs succeeded in positively altering the SOC (e.g.,
Gimpel et al., 2014; Weissbecker et al., 2002).
Can mindfulness be achieved while being POPC and will it positively affect users’
well-being? Research on these questions is scarce but first findings seem to hint into this
direction. Mindful instant messaging (IM), for instance, was directly and positively related to
well-being, and also enhanced well-being indirectly via fostering the autonomous motivation
to use IM (Bauer, Loy, Masur, & Schneider, 2017). Social media use at the work place was
related to positive health outcomes, when users were mindful (Charoensukmongkol, 2016).
Mindful awareness was also negatively related to problematic Internet use (Ataşalar &
Michou, 2017; Gámez-Guadix & Calvete, 2016).
Self-controlled POPC
Like mindfulness, trait self-control is related to more conscious mobile media use
(Bayer, Dal Cin, Campbell, & Panek, 2016) and shows similarities with the sense of
coherence. Self-control refers to “the ability to override or change one’s inner responses, as
well as to interrupt undesired behavioral tendencies and refrain from acting on them
(Tangney, Baumeister, & Boone, 2004, p. 275). This requires that individuals deliberately
reflect on their goals and values (Hofmann, Friese, & Strack, 2009). Researchers have linked
self-control with the manageability facet of sense of coherence: By exerting self-control,
individuals may successfully manage interpersonal tensions (emotional self-control; e.g.,
Nilsson, Starrin, Simonsson, & Leppert, 2007) as well as tensions between behavioral
tendencies and endorsed goals (impulse control; e.g., Cederblad, Dahlin, Hagnell, & Hansson,
1994). Indeed, previous studies indicate that both facets of self-control are positively related
to sense of coherence (e.g., Forsberg-Wärleby, Möller, & Blomstrand, 2001; Pålsson, R
Hallberg, Norberg, & Björvell, 1996). Moreover, results from a longitudinal study revealed
that good impulse control in childhood increases people’s capacity for manageability
(Cederblad et al., 1994). Overall, from a salutogenic perspective, self-control should function
as resource for coping with stressors (Antonovsky, 1996), including those resulting from a
POPC mindset.
At the same time, however, this mindset challenges users’ situational self-control. As
explicated above, mobile media permanently provide users with various immediate
gratifications, which frequently lead to situations that demand the resolution of goal conflicts
resulting from media temptations(Hofmann, Reinecke, & Meier, 2017, p. 216).
Nevertheless, previous research suggests that, on average, users only sometimes fail to self-
control their mobile media use (e.g., Meier, 2017). Moreover, users high in trait self-control
are more successful in controlling their media use (e.g., Panek, Bayer, Dal Cin, & Campbell,
2015), which Hofmann and colleagues (2017) regard as a precondition for positive effects of
the ability to be POPC on users’ well-being.
Does self-control enhance a self-determined POPC lifestyle? According to Ryan and
Deci (2006), uncontrolled behavior jeopardizes individuals’ autonomy, because they do not
reflect upon whether this behavior meets their needs: “Some habits and reactions are ones we
would experience as autonomous; others seem alien, imposed, or unwanted” (Ryan & Deci,
2006, p. 1573). Self-control should thus enable individuals to prevent externally motivated
behavior. With regard to being POPC, social pressure to be available to others seems to be a
strong external force that determines users’ mobile media use (e.g., Ling, 2012). This pressure
may even result in uncontrolled usage, with potentially negative long-term consequences for
its users (e.g., reduced accomplishments; Meier, 2017). Importantly, current research suggests
that individuals high in self-control are less prone to engage in mobile communication due to
this pressure (Halfmann et al., 2017). Consequently, trait self-control may indeed contribute
to a more autonomous mobile media usage behavior.
Meaningful POPC
A sense of meaning in life is an important facet of the good life (e.g., Hooker, Masters,
& Park, 2017) maybe even the most importantand seems to be crucial for SOC as well
(e.g., Antonovsky, 1987; Grevenstein et al., 2017). Recently, Trepte and Oliver (2018)
elaborated on the notion of meaningful POPC. In a nutshell, being POPC…
provides users with broad opportunities for meaningfulness, in other words, for the
opportunity to tackle meaning-in-life questions users permanently and vigilantly
produce and read content that supports them in their need for interconnectedness; they
learn from other peoples’ lives and stories with the aim of living a fulfilling life; they
stay in touch with others to find answers for questions of virtue and wisdom.
(Trepte & Oliver, 2018, p. 107)
Given these connections between mindfulness, self-control, meaningfulness, and
POPC, we argue that, on the one hand, being POPC may contribute to the development of a
strong SOC during socialization, thereby promoting well-being sustainably. The absence of
mindful, self-controlled, and meaningful POPC, however, does not necessary lead to a weak
SOC because other sources may provide these experiences (e.g., family, community). On the
other hand, a strong SOC may work as a buffer against negative forms of stress throughout
one’s lifespan. Individuals with a strong SOC should perceive less stress, even if they are
Using a salutogenic perspective, we outlined that the challenges resulting from being
POPC are not inherently negative but can be consciously, deliberatively, and meaningfully
managed in such a way that they may even promote health and well-being. Instead of
propagating the effects of supposedly pathogenic stressors, we encourage future research to
focus more strongly on investigating which resources enable mobile media users to stay
healthy and experience the constant demands of a POPC lifestyle as salutary.
According to the WHO (1986),
[h]ealth promotion is the process of enabling people to increase control over, and to
improve, their health. To reach a state of complete physical, mental and social well-
being, an individual or group must be able to identify and to realize aspirations, to
satisfy needs, and to change or cope with the environment. Health is, therefore, seen as
a resource for everyday life, not the objective of living. Health is a positive concept
emphasizing social and personal resources, as well as physical capacities. Therefore,
health promotion is not just the responsibility of the health sector, but goes beyond
healthy life-styles to well-being.
Being POPC provides lots of opportunities for individuals to increase their mindful,
self-controlled, and meaningful behavior in order to live well. Like a toolkit, smart mobile
devices do not only include means of repairing and fixing broken things but also means of
constructing and building new things or deconstructing and rebuilding old ones. Being POPC
can be seen as an amplifier (Reinecke, 2018) or as a catalyst for such processes. However, this
promotes health only if users are in control and aware of these processes, if they are
autonomously motivated to use mobile media to its full advantage (Reinecke, 2018) and in
order to realize meaningful experiences. If individuals, however, use such devices but do so in
a non-purposely and non-mindfully way, they run the risk of losing control and being
motivated rather heteronomously.
In sum, we believe that mobile media use can establish a sense of coherence and
meaning in life. Being POPC may also force individuals to permanently reflect their goals and
aspirations and make them wonder if their activities serve their intrinsic needs. Or to cite Gui,
Fasoli, and Carradore (2017, p. 166): “in the long term and at a deeper level of analysis, being
able to channel digital media towards individuals’ personal and professional goals becomes
relevant for a full self-realisation in life (Ryff & Singer, 2013).” We believe that developing
appropriate skills should be a central aspect of media literacy and competence in general as
using mobile media in a mindful, self-controlled, and meaningful way may be more important
these days than ever before.
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The problems of distracted driving and distracted pedestrian accidents have attracted the attention of public health officials, transportation and psychology researchers, and communication scholars. Though public safety campaigns intended to curb dangerous texting behaviors have been implemented, relatively little is known about the psychological processes involved in these behaviors. Our study integrates emerging research on automatic behavior, self-control, and mindfulness in an attempt to explain why many individuals believe that such behavior is dangerous but engage in it anyway. Our survey study (N = 925) of college students (n = 313) and adults (n = 612) revealed that texting automaticity, trait self-control, and the “acting with awareness” facet of trait mindfulness were all uniquely predictive of texting while driving as well as texting while walking. Further, we observe that texting automaticity is more strongly related to the frequency of texting while walking than driving. Together, the findings synthesize disparate strands of research on cognition and media use and demonstrate the importance of distinguishing among types of consciousness to understanding mobile communication behavior.
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The relationships between, on the one hand, burnout, empathy and sense of cohoerence (SOC) and, on the other, personality traits were investigated, together with the effects of systematic clinical supervision on these phenomena among Swedish district nurses. The results in the supervisory group (n = 21) were compared with those of a comparison group (n = 12) in a quasi-experimental design. Personality traits were assessed by means of the Karolinska Scales of Personality. The results indicated some correlations between personality traits and burnout, empathy, and SOC, as well as correlations between the latter three phenomena. There were no significant effects of clinical supervision on burnout, empathy, or SOC. More research is needed regarding the effects of clinical nursing supervision.
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POPC and well-being: A risk-benefit analysis
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Reinecke, L. (2018). POPC and well-being: A risk-benefit analysis. In P. Vorderer, D. Hefner, L. Reinecke, & C. Klimmt (Eds.), Permanently online, permanently connected. Living and communicating in a POPC world (pp. 233-243). New York, NY: Routledge.
iDisorder: Understanding our obsession with technology and overcoming its hold on us
  • L D Rosen
Rosen, L. D. (2012). iDisorder: Understanding our obsession with technology and overcoming its hold on us. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.