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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?

Technology distorts communication

Technologies of communication by definition distort human communication. They amplify some senses over others, and in many cases limit us to using written language-even one uniquely technological short-form of verbal expression called texting. The issue then becomes what are the consequences of these distortions? How does communication survive it, adapt with it, and even anticipate it?

  • How does a particular medium distort human communication?
  • Does distortion occur in the mode of expression, at the level of its content, of meta-messages (e.g. cues), of timing and interaction, or at a structural level (relations)?
  • What impact does distortion have on the interactants, and on their use of the medium? In other words, how much of the distortion that is produced through a medium is already integrated into communication?
  • Are some kinds of distortion more easily tolerated than others? If so, why, and in what cases?
  • In what cases is the distortion great enough to seriously undermine the user experience? And in what cases might a technological or application improvement diminish distortion?
  • When users can anticipate distortions caused by mediation, do they make it explicit within their communication?
  • In what cases might a distorting effect not be recognized? Have users developed the habit of taking this into consideration?
  • What kinds of compensating mechanisms does a technology or application build into its design?
  • In what cases do distortions caused by a medium give users the chance to play with its communicative or social effects?

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