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Social Media Research

Communication technology and theory: Research into the interpersonal and social interface

Summary: Sociologist Erving Goffman was famous for his acute observations of social interactions. What would he have to say about online communication? About talk and communication through social media, mobile or cel phones? About the interpersonal dynamics of online dating, or online profile management on myspace.com, and so on? If reltionships are maintained not only through what we say but also through how we mean it, and if our online communication tools aren't good at mediation of these interpersonal and face to face (f2f) dynamics, what is their capacity for facilitating communication?

How technology selects attention

Technologies must interface somehow with the human mode of displaying attention. Because they may privilege the voice, the view, or the written word, their means of doing this differs. We can only assume that our means of communicating through technology adapts to each device's limitations as well as possibilities.

  • How does a technology or application capture a user's attention?
  • How does it transmit attention (to another person or persons)?
  • In what sense are we forced to divide our attention between a medium and its other users? When chatting, emailing, text messaging, or even when recording a voicemail, attention that we give to others is not in realtime. Some of it may be captured in the medium itself, as a direct recording (of intonation, inflection, volume) or as an indirect representation (such as the use of ALL CAPS in a chatroom). But it is not shared. If it is part of a social encounter or interaction, it is always displaced.
  • So can attention pass through a secondary medium such as text? Is writing capable of recording attention?
  • What happens to communication when we don't give one another face to face attention?
  • What kinds of techniques have users developed as a means of giving or getting attention in different media and applications?
  • Is the desire for attention a motivation for engaging in particular kinds of mediated interaction? Can this be seen in how we interact, write, and respond to one another?
  • If mediated interactions afford the opportunity to get some measure of recognition for others, how might future technologies and applications crate new opportunities for doing so?
  • How does an application sustain attention levels among its users? How much of this can be engineered and designed; how much of it is a product of use alone?
  • To what degree does using a technology for interaction shift our attention to the medium itself?
  • How does the medium handle changes in the display and direction of attention during interaction? In other words, how dynamic is the medium or application?
  • In what kinds of media and applications does the screening of physical or visual participation offer benefits and advantages to users?
  • In what kinds of media and applications does the representation and transmission of attention produce constraints on interaction? How do these constraints affect interaction?
  • Do interactants play with the medium's inability to convey who's directing attention towards whom? Do they abuse it? Do they conceal their interests by it?
  • If the distribution of attention is a strong factor in social situations, what fundamental limits are there on mediation of social interaction and practice?
  • What kinds of attention giving and getting take new forms in asynchronous communication?
  • Does the technology have other uses that might compete for our attention (e.g. computers, which run many applications and are often used in the workplace)?
  • How well can we multitask among competing applications and still interact and communicate with others successfully?
  • How much does the context in which we use a technology shape the amount of attention we pay to it?

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