All CMC research is concerned with the same issue. They each handle the absence of nonverbal cue richness in CMC in a different way. The theories are divided into three basic types based on their approach to the variations in cues between face-to-face communication and CMC. So, let’s have a look at these theories.
The Social Identity Model of Deindividuation Effects (SIDE Model)
The Social Identity Model of Deindividuation Effects, commonly abbreviated to SIDE model, considers that CMC is not socially impoverished despite its lack and/ or absence of cues available in face-to-face communication. Without such nonverbal cues, it is indeed more difficult for communicators to express and detect aspects of individuality, an essential feature of interpersonal relations.
The SIDE model differs from the other theories of deindividuation such as the lack of social context cues theory. Unlike the other theories which argue CMC communicators cannot form impressions and relations, the SIDE model notes that communication through CMC technologies shifts towards a new structure of social relations.
The simple awareness of being a member of a group leads communicators to act accordingly. They reproduce group-based behavior. Instead of determining individual differences – which cannot be achieved due to the lack of nonverbal cues – communicators adopt accepted social group behavior patterns. As a result, online behavior shifts towards a group dynamic. Unable to be individuals, communicators become social members online.
Electronic Propinquity Theory
The Electronic Propinquity Theory first appeared in early CMC literature in 1978. It enjoyed a very brief revival in 1981. More recently, it has become commonly utilized since 2002. The early versions of this theory dealt with closed-circuit television. However, the electronic propinquity theory is particularly suited to examine practices associated with recent CMC technologies.
The electronic propinquity theory focuses on the psychological closeness CMC users experience with those with whom they are communicating. This psychological closeness happens even if there is a physical distance between the communicators. Yet, the communicators still experience a feeling of closeness, which positively influences the manner in which they communicate. This feeling is termed electronic propinquity.
Several factors assist in the creation of this feeling of electronic propinquity. They are the following:
- Bandwidth of communication medium: the number of cue systems supported by the medium.
- Mutual directionality: the capacity for two-directional communication and immediacy of feedback.
- The communication skills of the communicators: the communication skills they have offline and the skills associated with using the communication medium
- The complexity of the task being achieved: how easy or difficult is the task.
- The rules governing CMC: the rules determining what users can and cannot do with the medium and how to utilize the medium.
Channel Expansion Theory
The basic premise of the Channel Expansion Theory is simple. The longer a person utilizes a new communication medium, the more that person becomes comfortable with it and the richer the medium becomes for him/her. In other words, a communication medium is richer for users who have learned and incorporated the necessary skills to effectively utilize that communication medium.
A simple example is illustrated when someone, who is not used to social networking sites, registers a new Facebook account. At the start, that person will not understand all aspects of the communication medium. As s/he learns how to utilize it, that person will be too focused on the medium itself to optimize any communication. Yet, once the person becomes habituated with the medium, Facebook will seemingly become richer as the person knows how to optimize the communication medium.
The original theory of channel expansion was concerned with the shift in the users’ ability to encode and decode messages as they gain experience with a new communication medium. Other researchers have expanded the theory to include familiarity with the person with whom a user interacts through the communication medium. When interacting with someone a user knows very well offline, the communication medium appears to become richer or more expressive.