Online Communication: Linking Technology, Identity, and Culture

By Andrew F. Wood; Matthew J. Smith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
USING TECHNOLOGY TO COMMUNICATE
IN NEW WAYS

The Internet is like a giant jellyfish. You can't step on it. You can't go around it. You've got to get through it.

—John Evans

At the heart of this book rests a basic assumption: Communicating in computermediated contexts is somehow different than any other form of communication. Software engineer Ellen UUman (1996) describes encounters in which these differences have been made apparent to her. She regularly communicates with her fellow computer programmers and her supervisors through her computer. Over the years, she has reportedly acclimated to the shortness and arrogance that many of her colleagues seem to convey in their correspondence. Such behavior is, of course, not restricted to online interaction. However, what has struck Ullman more are the contrasts she has noted between mediated and face-to-face interactions with her coworkers. Two examples illustrate Ullman's keen perceptions.

On one occasion, Ullman (1996) found herself up one night and decided to send a message to a colleague. He happened to be awake as well and, after reading her message, wrote back to inquire why she was up so late. The two exchanged cordial messages that night, yet the next day when they attended a corporate meeting together, Ullman was unsure about how to approach him. They had, after all, been friendly with one another just hours before, yet in the office setting, she questioned, “In what way am I permitted to know him? And which set of us is the more real: the sleepless ones online, or these bodies in the daylight?” (p. 6).

On another occasion, Ullman (1996) had struck up a romantic relationship with a fellow programmer. For quite a while, the two communicated exclusively through exchanges of electronic mail (e-mail). He would send her a message, she would reply, and so forth. This continued with increasing frequency, until they were writing to one another almost every waking hour. Eventually, the couple decided to meet for dinner, and when they did, Ullman noticed something unusual about their conversation. “One talks, stops; then the other replies, stops. An hour later, we are still in this rhythm. With a shock, I realize that we have finally gone out to dinner only to exchange e-mail” (p. 17).

The questions and patterns that Ullman developed as a practitioner of computermediated communication (CMC) did not fully emerge until she saw the assumptions of one form of interaction contrasted with another. What she had learned to accept as norms in the world of computer mediation seemed odd and uncomfortable to her in

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Online Communication: Linking Technology, Identity, and Culture
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Brief Contents vi
  • Detailed Contents vii
  • Preface xiv
  • Part I - The Internet as Social Technology 1
  • Chapter 1 - Using Technology to Communicate in New Ways 3
  • References *
  • Chapter 2 - Understanding How New Communication Technologies Work 29
  • References *
  • Part II - The Self Among Others 49
  • References *
  • Chapter 3 - Forming Online Identities 51
  • References *
  • Chapter 4 - Relating Online 78
  • References *
  • Chapter 5 - Seeking Therapy Online 101
  • References *
  • Chapter 6 - Communicating in Virtual Communities 122
  • References 142
  • Part III - Internet Culture and Critique 145
  • References *
  • Chapter 7 - Rebuilding Corporations Online 147
  • References *
  • Chapter 8 - Accessing the Machine 166
  • References *
  • Chapter 9 - Carving Alternative Spaces 179
  • References *
  • Chapter 10 - Pop Culture and Online Expression 194
  • References *
  • Appendix A - Introduction to Hypertext Markup Language 213
  • Appendix B - Researching the Internet Experience 222
  • References 226
  • Glossary 227
  • Author Index 235
  • Subject Index 240
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