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Social Media Research

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

Summary: Writing and distribution tools and technologies have materiality, even when they are "immaterial." The digital publishing world, devices for digital distribution and publishing, and for communication over the web, over mobile, and more & all translate the meanings of speech and talk to a digital medium for transmission. This mediation of interaction compresses meanings, and brackets out the interpersonal cues and gestures we use for understanding a speaker's intention, truth, and relation. What are the consequences for social talk if the medium (including all online and social media) are poor at handling emotional exchanges and meanings?

Is meaning lost in translation?

We use non-verbal cues to supplement our speech with context and subtlety. Our faces are capable of more than 5,000 unique expressions, each of which might accompany the act of talking. Most technologies of communication bracket these cues by screening out our visibility. Even those that permit direct visual transmission, such as teleconferencing, cause us to express ourselves differently. These gestures can be a critical part of communicating accurately and effectively. They gain importance with the degree of affect a communication seeks to achieve.

  • What gestural and expressive cues, normally associated with the face and with body language, can a technology pass?
  • How clearly or authentically does it pass them?
  • How important are these cues to conveying affect or feeling?
  • Does a medium or application pass these cues through some kind of representational medium (text, image) or through a recording?
  • Is the voice a more authentic means of expressing cues than text or image?
  • How well does the medium or application capture cues expressed by the user?
  • Do we choose to communicate in some cases by a medium that does a better job of transmitting these kinds of cues? Or in some cases that screens these cues?
  • If a medium brackets the expression of cues, as does for example email, what impact does their disappearance from communication have for interaction?
  • What kinds of confusion or ambiguity can be directly attributed to the challenge of supplementing written communication with cues needed for correct interpretation?
  • What kinds of expression, such as wit, humor, irony, flirtation, and so forth fall flat through text forms of communication?
  • In what practices does the creation of substitute representations of cues lead to new forms of interaction or expression? Are online games, communities, discussion boards, and more a new kind of interaction because they require different kinds of expression and interpretation?
  • Do substitutes for cues (emoticons are a crude example) provide a real communicative service? Can they be effective?
  • Are we seduced, intrigued, and aroused by the absence of these paralinguistic markers?
  • Do users compensate for the absence of expressive cues by a turn to literal expression? Or, as is often the case with jokes, does expression lose its impact if it requires explanation?

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