We have already defined and discussed ICT in Chapter I. I will now outline the main features and tools of ICTs that will enable us better understand the roles they place in bringing about linguistic and communicative innovations.
Main Features of Information Communication Technology (ICT)
In this section of the chapter I outline the main features of ICT, based on which I show later on that these features distinguish ICTs from previous communications technologies which is the basis for the new forms and new uses of language that we observe in text-based CMC. These are multimedia integration, flexibility of use, connectivity and interactivity (Blurton 1999, Bodomo 2000, Shortis 2001).
Multimedia integration underscores the fact that ICTs enable us to combine various types of media for the purpose of communication. It is impossible, for instance, to seamlessly integrate text and images (drawings), and even voice features into a piece of writing or lecture presentation far more than would have been the case without computers and allied technologies.
Flexibility of use underlies not only the fact that it is easy to do this integration, but that one can have many options in a communication or information exchange situation. For instance, one can choose to do real-time communication or delayed communication using the same ICT tools, such as email.
Connectivity deals with the ability of ICTs to bring together people who may be living oceans apart. For instance, it is now possible for academics in Asia and North America to collaborate reasonably easily on writing an article for publication. This involves a lot of communication which would have been virtually impossible or too slow prior to the advent of ICTs.
Interactivity is the ultimate feature of ICTs. Because of all the above features participants in communicative situations using ICTs are more interactive, that is, they can control the communication situation in terms of back and forth exchange of information and in terms of how they control the content of the information. In a learning situation for instance, we may distinguish between learner-teacher interaction, learner-learner interaction, and learner resource interaction, all of which would be more enhanced with the use of ICTs than would otherwise be the case, even to the point of making learning from a distance look like a physical, on campus classroom learning. Interactivity and its role in creating learning environments will be discussed in-depth in chapters X and XI.
All these four features lead to an incredibly generous choice of modes of communication that are at the disposal of ICT users. These modes of communication include one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-one, and many-to-many communication scenarios. One-to-one communication may involve a simple mobile phone or MSN chatting between two people, one on each side; one-to-many communication may involve a blogger, a kind of online diary, sharing his or her life experiences with his or her readers; many-to-one communication may involve an interview situation where a candidate is linked to a group of interviewers; and many-to-many communication could for instance involve an online chat situation or a situation where two classrooms are interacting across vast oceans.