2: Lecture - Interpersonal Communication in an Online Environment
Let's begin with a few
Social Penetration Theory (Altman and Taylor, 1973): Interpersonal relationships are
like an onion--they keep unfolding, layer upon layer. Key ideas here are the
DEPTH of disclosure and the BREADTH of disclosure (so how much private
information is revealed and the variety of subjects addressed). Self-disclosure
is usually associated with the idea of reciprocity, so typically as we reveal
more so does the other person. Relationships need to go through a series of
stages. At first, interchanges are cautious and tentative, ruled primarily by
social conventions (imagine meeting a stranger at a party). Then the exchange
becomes exploratory and is marked by the disclosure in some more depth, often
in response to questions. Next, the exchange becomes open, barriers break down,
and people disclose freely. A final stage might be called a "stable
exchange" and is marked by continued openness and a mutual understanding
between partners that goes beyond the verbal exchange (imagine a close friend's
silence and your ability to understand what they "mean" by that).
Theory (Berger and
Calabrese, 1975): The initial stage of an interpersonal relationship is marked
by high degrees of uncertainty. We don't fully "get" the other person
and we don't know a lot about them. This uncertainty typically makes us
uncomfortable and we want to resolve the discomfort. So we use strategies for
information seeking, specifically interactive strategies (i.e. we ask
questions, we observe reactions). Studies show that lower levels of uncertainty
allow for higher levels of intimacy and liking. Another factor, which reduces
uncertainty between communicators, is the degree of similarity individuals
perceive in each other (in background, attitudes, and appearance). EMC
environments often bring together "similar types" (meaning those
interacting are after all visiting the same site, whether it be World of
Warcraft, a particular Facebook page, etc.). Because of this, various EMC
settings might have a lower level of uncertainty to begin with; hence, a greater
level of intimacy and liking.
Communication – Hyperpersonal
Communication is an EMC-based phenomenon, that might be a short-term effect
which (perhaps?) gives way to real interpersonal connections; conversely the
"personal" effect might simply end abruptly. For some, EMC feels very
"impersonal" but there are just as many others who report that EMC
allows them to go beyond the personal connections they can make in the
"real world." This has been labeled as "hyperpersonal"
communication. Why does this happen? Possibly because we project what we want
onto our online partner, we idealize him/her (especially in terms of physical
attractiveness, an area we typically have no real cues to evaluate against when
online without video). Also, we selectively reveal only those parts of
ourselves we consider ideal. We would feel more attractive online let’s say
because we don’t reveal our bad posture or our problematic complexion. So we're
feeling more attractive and we're assuming the other person is more attractive.
Finally, there is much less risk online for feeling judged, especially by a
relative stranger. We don't have to deal with their facial expressions of
dismay, or sighs of boredom, and should they verbally condemn some sort of
disclosed information, we could simply "turn them off." So many
people feel more open about online disclosure--it seems to be consequence-free,
which in reality, it is not. All together, online we have a recipe for instant
intimacy. For some people, self-disclosure in EMC environments is easier than
in face to face (F2F or FtF) environments, and so it is possible to the stages
of the relationship to progress more quickly. The real world fear of future
consequences do not exist for many people with relative "strangers"
who are "far away."
How Communication Needs
Drive Technology and Vice Versa
Two definitions to
Media Richness: The
channel can transmit multiple cues (visual, sound, etc.), which allows for
immediate feedback, and supports "natural" (conversational?) behaviors.
Which EMC channels are "rich" and which are "lean"? Are
there advantages to each?
Social presence: Also
termed "immediacy." Does communication allow for a sense of intimacy?
Can you "feel" the other person's presence? Face to face is obviously
strong in this area--we see facial expressions, we get eye contact, we can feel
a touch. Which EMC channels allow for strong social presence?
And a theory, too:
Uses and Gratification
Theory: A mass media theory that
says people use media to accomplish specific tasks and gratify specific needs.
Escape and Entertain —
Some media allow the user to escape from reality. Other media allow the user to
relax, to experience aesthetic pleasure, sexual arousal, or emotional release.
Some media experiences simply allow the user to fill time.
Social interaction —
People create personal relationships with the characters in various media. This
supports social empathy and the understanding of others. Also, it can serve as
the basis for conversation (cultural touchstones). Another possibility is that
these substitute for real-life companionship. Finally, the media can allow
people to connect with "actual" family, friends and society.
Inform and educate —
The audience gains an understanding of the world around them by consuming
media. They can find out about relevant events, seek advice on practical
matters, satisfy curiosity, and educate themselves.