Interpersonal Interaction in Computer Mediated Communication (CMC)
Kim, Junghyun. “Interpersonal Interaction in Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) : Exploratory Qualitative Research based on Critical Review of the Existing Theories” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Marriott Hotel, San Diego, CA, May 27, 2003. <http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p112010_index.html>
Kim’s 2003 paper discusses interpersonal communication in the use of Computer Mediated Communication (CMC), in this case Instant Messenger (IM), by reviewing existing theories on the topic, particularly those that compare Face-to-Face (FtF) communication with CMC. Because this exploratory qualitative study examined IM, which is purely textual, it serves as an excellent source to help me juxtapose FtF, CMC, and the OVC.
Level of Interpersonal Communication
Kim divides the theories into three levels of interpersonal communication within CMC: impersonal, personal, and hyperpersonal, which vary according to the level of interaction. The levels and theories differ by how they measure the interaction according to a number of factors including rate, how much and how often participants reply; time, how quickly they reply; verbal cues, voice volume, fluctuation, tone, etc.; and non-verbal cues, gesture, appearance, facial expression, etc.
CMC < FtF
This perspective assumes that CMC has an inferior degree of interpersonal interaction compared to FtF communication. Studies categorized into this area tend to draw on the Cue-Filtered-Out, Social Presence, and Media Richness theories. Kim also suggests that a strength of this perspective is that it can be more efficient for work-related interactions. “The fewer amount of social context cues can lead people to be more task-oriented than in FtF communication, by preventing people from being distracted by personal interactions.” (Rice & Case, 1983). Again, I’ll note that when considering the OVC, it can be seen that with the visual and audio elements, it adds back much of the social context clues present in FtF. However, the larger difficulty I see with this statement is that while it may be true that much CMC is lacking many socvial context clues and can therefore remove distraction, it is only losing some distractions, while adding others. There are also distractions when people are alone at a computer (as opposed to the FtF setting), such as coworkers, family, pets, responsibilities, entertainment, etc. With FtF, there may be some social distractions, but the fact that one is in the presence of a live human can be a direct motivator to not be distracted by other factors.
CMC = FtF
This perspective suggests that CMC can convey interpersonal interaction just as much as, and is no less personal than, FtF communication. Specifically, it argues that the degree of interpersonal reaction becomes similar between FtF and CMC given sufficient time. Whereas impersonal interaction perspective emphasizes the value of gesture and non-verbal cues, using these as evaluation measurements, personal interaction perspective argues that the main tools for developing interpersonal relationships are language and verbally-transmitted messages, and applies the time and rate of message exchange to evaluate and measure levels of interpersonal interaction. The main theory that Kim associates with this perspective is Social Information Processing (SIPP) (Walther, 1992). This perspective favors time and rate of message exchanges over variety and number of communication cues as evaluation measurements of interpersonal interaction levels.
CMC > FtF
This perspective suggests that the levels of interpersonal interaction in CMC can be enhanced and can potentially surpass levels of emotion and affection of FtF interaction. The asynchronous nature of CMC gives users time to consider and edit their responses, making interactions in CMC more controllable. Also, the limited social and non-verbal cues allow users to hide their identity a bit and be less concerned over appearance and behavioral features. So, participants may choose, albeit subconsciously, to receive only the more positive expressions from the other conversant, thus constructing a potentially false or at least idealized, perspective of his or her conversant, of that individual’s perspective of the speaker, and of their relationship, overall. Kim notes that it is these idealized peceptions that make CMC hyperpersonal, exceeding FtF in the conversation’s interaction and intensity.
“To emphasize users’ conformity with group norms in virtual communities, the hyperpersonal interaction in CMC perspective argues that people lose their original identities when participating in CMC. … With limited social cues and lack of information about participants’ real identities, it is much easier for CMC users to express themselves as new persona. ” (Kim Pg. 10).
This point also due partly to perceived identity in that it is the other participant that constructs a perception of the other individual that might not be completely accurate. However, that is CMC; the OVC improves this point, since the user can be seen, heard, etc.
Again, Kim and others discussing this topic have not included online video conversation, as it did not exist–at least not in it’s current form–at the time. The addition of the visual and audio element of video into the conversation, changes the conditions of these points that support CMC as being hyperpersonal. For example, there are more cues, both verbal and non-verbal in the OVC than in textual forms of CMC, but this more traditional CMC still benefits from asynchronicity in that participants can still shape responses. Additionally, the process of making a video generally includes some level of planning and preparation, and people are more concerned about having the video recordings of themselves. Therefore, this benefit of people taking time to contemplate response is even higher. The addition of both the verbal and non-verbal cues also lessens the likelihood of he idealized perceptions, since participants experience conversants’ responses and reactions more wholly.
While Kim’s definition and discussion of CMC is largely non-visual, referring to IM and email, his research in this article is extremely valuable in adding to my own look at theories and perspectives of how scholars view and categorize the importance of verbal and non-verbal cues and factors in FtF vs. their presence in other forms of communication.