In this chapter, we look at some fundamental aspects of communicating about ourselves and our health through technology. In particular, we examine how the social psychological theories of self-presentation and self-regulation might be applied to online health-communication. It is argued that the specific qualities of text-based communication might have unique benefits for health-communication through the interplay between the writing process and the concerns posed by health-issues. An understanding of how psychological processes are connected with online health communication is believed to be fundamental in understanding trends within self-help and user-driven health communication, and to predict possible outcomes of such behavior. Also, this knowledge might inform the design and development of patient-centered solutions for health-communication and heath-service delivery.
Quite simply, CMC can be defined as communication between two or more individuals using computers. This includes use of e-mail, instant messaging, chat, as well as similar functionalities offered through mobile phones such as the Short Messaging System (SMS).
Much of the research within the multidisciplinary field of CMC is based on the idea that different communication media affect the communication process and its outcomes based on the way information can be transmitted in a particular medium. A basic assumption is that media differ in terms of “richness,” defined as a medium’s ability to change understanding within a time interval, for instance measured by performance on persuasion tasks (e.g., how well are we able to get our view across to another person). This term was introduced through the media richness theory (MRT) (Daft & Lengel, 1986), which claimed that the richness of a medium could be judged by looking at four criteria: feedback, multiple cues, language variety, and personal focus. Accordingly, face-to-face communication was viewed as the richest medium, followed by telephone, e-mail and letters. Later, the emergence of real-time, interactive video would be viewed as somewhere between face-to-face and telephone with regards to richness (e.g., Isaacs, Whittaker, Frohlich, & O‘Conaill, 1994). Developed for research on use of communication technology in organizations, MRT specifically claimed that rich media would be best suited to equivocal tasks, while written media (lower degrees of richness) would be suited for unequivocal tasks. Despite the fact that MRT was hardly meant to explain the informal social phenomena that have unfolded on the Internet during the past 10 years, it has nevertheless dominated research on online social interactions.