Online Communication: Linking Technology, Identity, and Culture

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

CHAPTER 2
UNDERSTANDING HOW NEW COMMUNICATION
TECHNOLOGIES WORK

Websites are like shifting sands. The average life of a Web page is 100 days. After that either it's changed or it disappears. So our intellectual society is built on sand.

—Brewster Kahle (cited in Marks, 2002)

The history of the World Wide Web is written in scientific papers, hastily scrawled designs, and the shifting sands of digital papyrus. If s no wonder that one site seeking to archive every web page created since 1996 resides in the new Library of Alexandria, the location of an ancient collection lost to the ages. With its sister sites located in California, the Internet Archive Wayback Machine allows you the chance to sift through 10 billion web pages, including a growing number from the “ancient” Internet, before the dot-bomb implosion, when folks first began to craft simple web pages with an easy-to-learn language called Hypertext Markup Language. Visit the Wayback machine, typing in the address for MSNBC, and you might peruse the news when Bill Clinton was president. Visit Yahoo from 1996 and a far simpler World Wide Web than you'll find today. Why would you want to? For the same reason that you might investigate the history of the printed word or television. Innovations offered by these media profoundly altered the ways in which we communicate our perceptions about our selves, our relationships, and our world. Fortunately, it's easier to learn about the history and basic functions of online communication than it is to thumb through a Gutenberg Bible.

This chapter offers a bookend of sorts to the previous chapter's introduction to the role of computer technology in human communication. Having introduced the tools of CMC, both functional and metaphoric, it is appropriate that we examine more closely how these tools work. In this chapter, we place computer technology in an historical context, surveying the emergence of online communication from the perspective of cybernetics. We then step beyond chapter l's exploration of mediated and immediate communication to overview five qualities that distinguish Internet technology from other forms of communication: packet-switching, multimedia, interactivity, synchronicity, and hypertextuality. These functions help explain how CMC works to blur the distinction between mediation and immediacy.

Throughout this chapter, we approach computer technology as important—critical, even—to understanding the whirlwind of changes affecting the ways we communicate with friends across the street and strangers around the globe. But before we go further, it is important to remember that human communication cannot be explained by

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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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