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Social Media Research

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

Summary: We tend to view communication using social media, online tools and web sites, IM, chat, SMS, and so literally. Messages have authors, what they seem to be saying is what they in fact mean to say, and so on. The reader is the interpreter of what's communicated. But the medium not only transmits and enables talk by capturing communication on web pages, in chat and IMs, in emails, blog posts, and comments. It also produces the author: as an appearance or effect of the medium. This is enough to go on in most cases, but it does have implications. We do not "exist" online any more than a Second Life avatar exists in the real world. These are media of production. Presence, talk, intent, motive, character, personality.... all these are manufactured by the social media that are their means of production. HCI and human factors research has a deep field of study in social media.

Interactionism and framing the encounter: synchronous media

Because synchronous technologies permit us to negotiate interactions in real-time, we can play more with the context of an interaction than we can when using asynchronous technologies. Phone calls have more presence, and their immediacy connects users in a more binding fashion to a kind of virtual co-location. This shared context may place constraints on us (to respect each other's physical location, for example), but in providing more to work with, it also allows us a greater range of performance. Joking, commenting, remarking, and other kinds of verbal play are much easier to conduct over synchronous connections than over asynchronous ones.

  • How strong is the need for framing in synchronous media use?
  • How does the need for framing possibilities constrain and enable synchronous media use?
  • When using cell phones, we often begin with the question: "Where are you?" This is a framing move. It allows us to set the context of conversation to include the immediate physical context in which each of us is located.
  • If framing moves are a natural part of interaction, how are they affected by mediation?
  • How important is it over synchronous connections to still create context?
  • How well do we accommodate one another's particular circumstances, and what new conversational techniques have we developed for this purpose?
  • How quickly and effectively do these conventions spread? How global, and how differentiated are they?
  • Are there common conversational gestures, specific to a medium but common across cultures and languages?
  • What impact does this kind of competence have on how we choose whom we call and when?
  • If framing and framing moves are a part of cultural and social production, are we creating new kinds of phone and messaging tact? Are we losing some of our competence with face to face tact?
  • What difference do the body and face make in this regard?
  • How often do we choose not to take a cell phone call in order to avoid awkward framing maneuvers (e.g. being forced to sit in the car or stand in the doorway to continue a call..)
  • Are we becoming used to conversations styles that conform to and even anticipate abrupt endings?
  • What effect does subjecting interaction to sudden shutoff have on the nature of an interaction itself? Do we steer clear of quality interactions in order to not have to suddenly close the door on them?
  • How critical is the sign off, or point of closure, in synchronously mediated communication? Is its importance in conversation changing?
  • How much of the goodbye is affective, personal, and how much is convention?

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