Early studies of online communication examined the predominantly textual nature of online communication (e.g., e-mail, discussion boards, chat rooms) and hypothesized that the reduced number of available message channels would restrict the level of social engagement. In other words, by reducing interpersonal communication to a textual experience, traditional nonverbal cues such as facial expression, eye contact, and gestures are eliminated. As Kiesler, Siegel, and McGuire (1984) stated in an early study of computer-mediated communication, “Once people have electronic access, their states, power, and prestige are communicated neither contextually (the way secretaries and meeting rooms and clothes communicate) nor dynamically (the way gaze, touch, and facial and paralinguistic behavior communicate)” (p. 1125). They questioned whether online communication was inherently depersonalizing, not only because of such reduced cues, but also because it forces communicators to imagine their audience.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Computer Mediated Communication: Human communication, often textual although increasingly using audio and video technologies, which occurs via computers and computer networks.
Asynchronous Communication: Time-delayed interaction that does not require participants to be online simultaneously; individuals send or post messages and the recipients read them at a later time.
Nonverbal Cues: Communication that occurs via proximity, motion, posture, facial expression, eye contact, and other visual means rather than through the actual words spoken.
Synchronous Communication: Real-time interaction, such as live voice or video conferences, that requires participants to be online simultaneously.
Immediacy: A sense of physical or psychological closeness in interpersonal communication.
Social Presence: The degree to which people perceive others as real and perceives their interaction as a personal relationship.
Interaction: Mediated communication between two or more individuals.