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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?

What's a technology's interaction bandwidth?

The limitations and constraints a technology imposes on expression and interaction inform the kinds of interpersonal and social encounters it makes possible. This lends a technology or application a kind of "social bandwidth," suggesting that it might mediate "rich" interactions only up to a point. Weddings, for example, are performed live and in person. They're too rich for mediation. Laying off employees, on the other hand, is apparently not—or is somebody making a mistake?

  • How well does a technology or application transmit unstructured talk and interaction? What is its "dynamic range," so to speak, in terms of permitting spontaneous and engaging interaction?
  • Is the production of interpersonal and social relations compromised by a medium's low dynamic range? To what extent do we need the dynamic range of face to face interaction for the experience of sharing time together?
  • Does this kind of technical limitation apply to the medium's or the application's uses?
  • What kinds of interactions might not be possible, or advisable, through a medium because of its inability to translate the dynamics of interaction?
  • How do users test a medium to see how well it handles interaction dynamics?
  • Are there particular kinds of interactions that we attempt in new media or with new technologies in order to "test" its dynamic range? It is often noted that porn is the first use of a new recording medium. Is there an analogical test for communication technologies?
  • Does a medium or application produce its own versions of interaction dynamics? For example, can email commenting and forwarding be considered forms of "side-play" in social interaction?
  • Should technology and application developers assume that communication technologies should have as high a dynamic range as possible? That at the level of the interface as well as connectivity and bandwidth, a technology should be as transparent to human interaction as possible?
  • To what extent do users enjoy working through and adapting to the limitations of a technology?

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