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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?

Frequency of interaction counts

Communication is not only about the content (spoken or unspoken) conveyed during an exchange, here and now. It's about the relationship that persists during the long stretches of time in between encounters. For the most part, we have routine interactions with our friends, family, and colleagues. And those routines involve a certain amount of stability. Oftentimes it includes the frequency of our interactions, as well as intensity, topic or theme, etc. How we negotiate the frequency of communication can become an issue when technologies provide instant and constant access through a diverse number of devices. We may find ourselves over-communicating, under-communicating, being too explicit, being not explicit enough-in short being ambiguous. Access and connectivity are not magic bullets when it comes to connections between people and their habits of maintaining relations.

  • What kinds of factors are involved in the frequency of a person's contact with others?
  • Are mediated interactions considered as a substitute for the real thing? For whom, and in what cases?
  • How does the frequency and regularity of communication, by email or phone for example, produce its own rhythm?
  • How much of our sense of obligation to call or respond to a call (or message) derives from historical experience and habits of use?
  • What kinds of patterns develop around our use of various communications technologies?
  • What rhythms and habits do we develop around the frequency of communication we have with one another?
  • How binding are these rhythms?
  • What assumptions do we tend to make when rhythms are broken?
  • How deeply are we embedded in routines (characterized by frequency) of interaction in everyday life, and with people considered members of regular communication?
  • Do these develop into shared perceptions of how a medium or application is used-or is that a local and specific understanding?
  • To what extent and in what sense do we use technologies to stay in touch with one another, or to maintain distance, privacy, and personal space?
  • Are there cultural and social norms around the amount of contact one might have with others? And is this dependent on the medium or application used?
  • In what kinds of interactions does the frequency of contact make a significant difference? In work, or in online play, for example?
  • To what extent does the frequency of our participation in mediated interactions compensate for our physical absence and invisibility?
  • Can the frequency of our appearance at a discussion board, in a chat room, in IM with friend, etc., produce a virtual "presence?"
  • If we are able to maintain a virtual identity and presence with others, whether in particular applications or communities, or globally, does this presence ultimately drive our participation? Do we become compelled to continue virtual participation in order for its own sake?
  • How strongly do we feel that we belong to a virtual community? And how strongly do we feel that membership as a real expectation on our time, our presence, and our availability?
  • To what extent does a temporal regularity and frequency constitute the nature and force of these claims?

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