Mediated Interpersonal Communication

By Elly A. Konijn; Sonja Utz et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
Self as source
Agency and customization in
interactive media

S. Shyam Sundar

In a world of iPod and myYahoo, it appears as though communication technologies exist primarily to celebrate the individual rather than to bridge geographical distances or overcome physical barriers. What do new and emergent media technologies really add to the world of human communication? Are they simply meeting human need for information, entertainment, and social contact in a mediated setting or are they extending, as McLuhan (1964) claimed, our communicative abilities in space and time? In the brief history of computers and the internet, technology has advanced so rapidly that they have called into question fundamental assumptions about the nature of both interpersonal and mass communication.

Traditional forms of computer-mediated communication (CMC) such as chatrooms have given way to newer technologies such as blogs, which challenge once-sacred distinctions between interpersonal, group, and mass communication. Blogs are at once deeply personal in that they are one’s diary or journal, often catering to a small group of commenters and lurkers, but they are shared, without access restrictions for the most part, with the rest of the world, making them, in principle, an example of mass communication on the web. Electronic mail, one of the oldest CMC devices, has undergone several modifications over the years, including the addition of synchronicity with the arrival of instant messaging (IM) and the ability to expand interpersonal to group communication with the aid of listserv and even to mass communication, as in spam. The ever-changing functionality of communication technologies persuades us, as scholars, to move away from an object-centered approach to the study of technology to a variable-centered one (Nass & Mason, 1990). It is less meaningful to study the uses and effects of any one particular CMC technology than to study variables that are embedded in—and cut across—several CMC technologies because technologies themselves die or metamorphose by incorporating newer features and affordances. Variables, on the other hand, exist to a lesser or greater degree across different technologies, thus allowing us to systematically assess their contribution to human communication. Moreover, their effects may be studied in their

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