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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.

What are you saying? Footing and mediated conversation

"Footing" describes the phenomenon of switching register, voice, perspective, or role in conversation. It's a rather straightforward way of admitting to the high degree of performance involved in talk or speech, for it recognizes that an interaction's meaning cannot be obtained from a linguistic analysis of the exchange alone. Words and sentences are not enough to capture the whole of a conversational exchange.

While some people are very adept at footing changes in phone calls, or have a verbal wit that survives email and chat, mediation generally reduces the bandwidth for changes of footing. It delays and screens the cues required for dynamic word play and for the use of references that might exceed explicit and written statements. The impact of communication technology on footing should interest anyone who insists on rich interaction, be it for the sake of pleasure, play, persuasion, accuracy, or something else.

  • How, and does a technology permit turn-taking opportunities?
  • If it permits and people frequently create reference-response chains, in what ways are they transformed by the technology and by use practices around it?
  • To what extent do we tend to carry out an interaction with the application or medium in which it was initiated?
  • What kinds of confusion can result when we use different media and applications during an interaction?
  • How important for our communication is it that we recognize where in a string a particular message belongs?
  • What new kinds of sequences are possible with asynchronous media? In what ways do asynchronous media permit mult-tracked conversations? Out of sequence turns? Copying and forwarding to individuals not originally involved in an interaction? Permitting interaction to fade away? Engaging in bursts of near-live message exchanges?
  • Are media transforming the ways in which we conduct conversations?
  • What kinds of relations come of a deferred or more stretched form of turn-taking?
  • What kinds of activity can be negotiated in this manner?
  • To what extent do we now engage in more activities in which interactions and communication are stretched over time?
  • Would it be correct to call these kinds of interactions "discontinuous?" Or are we developing new kinds of proximity, in which continuity can be stretched over longer periods of time without losing continuity?
  • If so, are there substantial or only formal implications for interpersonal relations? What new ways of engaging in coordinated activity might we see?
  • How much stress is created by the temporal re-sequencing of messaging applications?
  • What are some of the new kinds of interaction good for? What are they not good for?
  • How do the bracketing effects of asynchronous media cause us to address issues of sincerity, normative rightfulness, and factual truth and accuracy?
  • Are there new ways of supplying guarantees of these acceptability conditions?
  • Are we developing practices and competencies in new ways of coordinating activity?
  • To what extent can technologies embed some of these guarantees in the applications that use them?

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