At the time of writing this article, there were already many theories of CMC. In fact, there are more theories than there have ever been. There are about fifteen major and minor theories of CMC.
All CMC theories are concerned with one topic. They each approach the absence of the richness of nonverbal cues in CMC in different ways. According to their approach to the differences of cues between face-to-face communication and CMC, the theories fall under three broad categories. Let’s take a look at these categories.
The Three Categories
The first category of CMC theories is called cues-filtered out theories. The premise of these theories is that the absence or lack of nonverbal cues hinders the proper process of communication. The second category views the characteristics of communicators as influencing the perceptions of the capacities of CMC. The third category approaches CMC as an instance whereby communicators adapt to and exploit the cue limitations of such communication platforms.
As there exist so many theories of CMC, it is impossible to cover all of these theories in this article. It is also important to note some theories have aged and must be reevaluated to adjust to theoretical limitations and changing technologies. These same technological developments have also been responsible for enlarging or diminishing the relevance of other CMC theories. There is also a set of new theories that have appeared in response to new technologies. They are still being shaped and tested.
Social Presence Theory
Social Presence Theory is one of the earliest theories of CMC. Developed in 1976 by Short, Williams and Christie, it has functioned as the foundation of several later theories concerned with CMC. Although it was one of the first analytical frameworks to examine CMC, it still remains popular to this day.
Social presence refers to the perception a user of CMC technology has of another user as a real person present in the same virtual environment. This theory originates from the field of teleconferencing research. Scholars were interested in measuring the degree to which the speakers felt the other was real and could communicate in the same manner as a real person.
There are multiple definitions of the phenomenon of social presence:
- “Social presence occurs when part or all of a person’s perception fails to accurately acknowledge the role of technology that makes it appear that s/ he is communicating with one or more people or entities” (International Society of Presence Research).
- sense of being with another” (Biocca, Harms &Burgoon)
- “the degree to which a person is perceived as a ‘real person’” (Gunawardena).
To summarize, social presence is the degree of salience, that is the state of being noticeably there, between communicators. Communicators perceive the other as real. They forget about the computer mediation as they feel they are together through and during the interaction. However, this feeling of social presence is not achieved in all CMC
Social presence is highest in rich presence systems which allow the use of multiple cues. Social presence is likely to be lower when sending emails than when skyping another person. Skype allows the users to see each other’s facial expressions. However, this basic premise does not always hold true. A rapid succession of emails can sometimes create more social presence than a Skype call with video lagging behind the audio.
In general, the fewer the number of cues available through a CMC system or technology, the less involvement and social presence users experience. In recent years, this theory has focused more closely on newer multimodal CMC technologies from video conferencing to avatar-mediated virtual environments.
Follow us in part two to discover about another interesting CMC theory.