Computer-Mediated Communication: Definition, Types and Theories

Computer-Mediated Communication: Definition, Types and Theories
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We are living at a time when it is becoming increasingly common to utilize technologies to communicate with others instead of relying purely on face-to-face contexts. It is sometimes easier to send an email than meet someone in person to share the message being communicated.

This is also the age of technological progress. As new technologies develop and appear increasingly quickly, the ways in which we communicate are also adjusting to these technologies. Any overview of the main communication theories must consider computer mediated communication, a phenomenon that has become part of everyday life.

What Is Computer Mediated Technology?

What Is Computer Mediated Technology?

In simple terms, computer mediated communication refers to any form of human communication through the use of a form of computational technology. Typically, the communicators are connected through one or more networked telecommunications systems. Beyond the obvious definition, there are several other implications.

In the following list, you will see some classic definitions of computer mediated communication:

Gerry Santoro: “At its broadest, CMC can encompass virtually all computer uses including such diverse applications as statistical analysis programs, remote-sensing systems, and financial modelling programs: all fit within the concept of human communication.”

John December: “Computer Mediated Communication is a process of human communication via computers, involving people, situated in particular contexts, engaging in processes to shape media for a variety of purposes.”

Susan Herring: “CMC is communication that takes place between human beings via the instrumentality of computers.”

Types of CMC Technologies 

Types of CMC Technologies 

The variety of CMC technologies encompasses early and simple plain-text technologies as well as richer and newer forms of CMC.

Plain-text CMC is the form of CMC that has existed for the longest time. Emails, bulletin boards, forums and instant messaging were some of the early forms of computer mediated communication. Yet, plain-text CMC remains popular to this day. Emails remain the most commonly used form of CMC. Furthermore, newer forms of plain-text CMC have appeared in the form of the 140-word Twitter tweet. Despite newer forms of CMC, plain-text CMC is not about to disappear.

A recent development in the field of CMC technologies has been the emergence of multimodal CMC platforms. The latter allows the users to have access to several cues which are absent from the plain-text CMC. There are two main types of multimodal CMC. The first one is connected to teleconferencing technologies from the low end technology accessible to everyone in the form of VoIP services such as Skype to the high-end technology utilized by companies such as Cisco’s TelePresence system. The second type of multimodal CMC platform refers to avatar-mediated communication. This typically takes place in 3D virtual environments and online games. An avatar is the graphical representation of the user through which s/he moves around the virtual environment and interacts with objects and other people in the virtual environment.

Need for CMC Theories

The emergence and popularisation of CMC theories have resulted in the necessity for CMC theories. The reason behind this need rests in the fact that CMC is not neutral. The addition of computer mediation to communication changes the way people communicate. These changes, in turn, have larger and broader social effects.

The introduction of computer mediation changes communication in several ways. Quite importantly, CMC changes the manner by which senders encode their messages and, more importantly, by which receivers decode and interpret these messages.

CMC is void of all the cues available in physical contexts. Nonverbal communication lacks the array of nonverbal communication cues (kinesics, proxemics and personal appearance) present in face-to-face communication. . These include facial expressions, eye contact and movement, gestures, body posture, body movements and distance among communicators. IRC (Internet relay chat) users first addressed these limitations by devising emoticons, which have since been adopted by users of plain-text communication across various platforms.

As CMC is becoming the norm for more and more people in an increasing array of contexts (work, study and leisure), it is important to have theories to carefully analyze these specific types of communication processes and practices.


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