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Social Media Research

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

Summary: The symbolic interactionism of Erving Goffman provided a powerful and illuminating encyclopedia of what "happens" during face to face social encounters. He was particularly insightful in his analysis of the handling requirements of social occasions, most of which he described as various forms of talk. What then does online talk look like? How does it refer to face to face talk? How does it reshape it? What is left outside the frame of talk, and how well does talk function when embodied interaction is impossible?

Who's on the other end of the line?

When we communicate, we communicate with a specific somebody. We address ourselves to that person, or persons. Addressing can be explicitly stated, or implied. In either case, we can hardly imagine doing this without a face. And yet most technologies still require us to address each other without recourse to facial expression. The consequences are not only a matter of grace and politeness, or even of starting off on the right foot. Technologies can have disastrous results when addressing goes awry.

  • To what extent does a medium or application allow us to personalize the way in which we address recipients?
  • In what kinds of situations is our ability to show style, personality, and familiarity with a recipient important to how we select the medium in which we might make contact?
  • What impact does the flattening of addressing have on mediated interactions, and in which cases?
  • Do use practices alone determine whether or not a personalized address corresponds to sincere personal intent?
  • What kinds of cues do we use to discriminate false personalization and addressing from the real thing?
  • Addressing is the primary means by which to distinguish spam email. To what extent does addressing invite abuse?
  • How might user practices developed around addressing create barriers on the net for message propagation?
  • If addressing becomes a primary means of identifying trusted senders and sources, does this mean that communication is often bound by the existence of relationships?
  • The internet has obtained much of its interest from its ability to create relationships, or at least permit and facilitate interactions among people who don't know one another. How do we filter the signal from the noise, and opportunities from garbage?
  • With ever-increasing access to people enabled at any time by greater numbers of devices, how important will issues of identification be?
  • Might media and applications be asked to validate or verify callers and senders?
  • What kinds of permission-based agreements will we make with one another, and with the companies that hope to reach us, in order to create some measure of control over access and its violation?
  • Aside from making addressing explicit, will we also want to know more about the nature of a call or message? Might subject lines, priority flags, and other meta data become standardized ways of giving users more choices about whether or not to respond to an incoming call?

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