[Air-l] Computer-Mediated-Communication

Joao Vieira da Cunha jvc at MIT.EDU
Tue Feb 5 13:55:29 PST 2002

I am puzzled by the use of 'computer mediated communication'. Is IT really 
'mediating'?  I cannot help but to remember McLuhan's motto 'the medium is 
the message'. Are computers, PDA's, etc... only mediating communication?

Perhaps their role is more encompassing. If we take seriously the role of 
material artifacts in cognition and representation of reality it is hard to 
limit computers to the role of mediators. There's a qualitative difference 
between web-enabled computers and the telephone, at least in the sense that 
we have a wide margin to represent our identities on-line and very little 
if any over the phone or other 'mediating' tools.

I don't want to quabble around words, although I do like computer-aided 
communication more than computer-mediated communication, what I am 
interested in  is in being rigorous around the role of IT in communication 
and find out if it's more than that of a mediator.

Any thoughts?


Joao Vieira da Cunha
PhD Student
MIT Sloan School of Management

At 01:12 PM 2/5/2002 -0500, you wrote:
>Hi all,
>Sandeep Krishnamurthy asked about the use of the term computer-mediated 
>communication. First, in response to your friend's suggestions:
>The screen on any device is not the system that controls the mediation - 
>the 'computer' and,software do that, while is where the mediated
>interaction occurs. To call CMC 'screen-mediated-communication' might be 
>akin to calling letter writing 'page-mediated-interaction' - it doesn't 
>really get to the sense of the mediation. To continue with that analogy, 
>'pen and paper-mediated-interaction' might be better for letter-writing - 
>if one writes in pen, but what if one writes a letter on a computer, 
>prints it out and sends it? 'page-mediated-communication' brings us, 
>ironically, closer to a generalized representation of the literal 'display 
>of mediation' , but in fact it still does not really get to what the 
>mediation is. We 'writing a letter' is a gloss for a form of mediated 
>interaction between (at least) two people that involves one doing some 
>kind of writing 'onto' (we can include printing) some kind of physical 
>paper, then physical postage of the physical paper in such a way as the 
>written material produced in one time is physically made available to 
>another person. So I think the lesson from that is that the 'name' of any 
>medium somehow captures the 'sense of interaction' of the medium...
>>device-mediated communication?
>This is probably too general - a telephone could be device-mediated, as 
>could, indeed, face-to-face interaction (the device being organic but a 
>mechanical contrivance of a sort).
>So, on to CMC. Like, 'device', 'computer' has certainly become a term that 
>is now almost too general. However, by the same token most 'CMC systems', 
>or 'CMC media' have their own names - 'email', IRC' etc. So in some ways 
>it doesn't matter that 'computer' is so general because (a) we have 
>specific names when we need them and (b) CMC is a good enough 
>superordinate category to differentiate it from at least face-to-face 
>interaction, letter writing and telephone interaction in the sense that we 
>understand those as not involving computers as we now know them. On the 
>other hand, when the actual stuff occuring via CMC systems is discussed, 
>it is referred to by names that are more general, and different, than the 
>names of the CMC system. So, people talk about 'interaction' in chat 
>rooms, or 'reading' a web page. What I am very confusingly getting at is 
>that the term 'CMC' is situated within realm of discourse about 
>communication, and that it, at least, fulfils a task of differentiation 
>from some other forms of communication. It is not necessary for it to do 
>duty on every level, though, hence other names.
>This brings me to your point:
>>me.  I argued that, starting with the Internet, connectivity with others (or
>>community, if you like) had to be a component of CMC, but not other forms of
>>screen-based-communication.  By this standard, communicating through PDAs or
>>e-mail devices such as Blackberry was, indeed, CMC.  But, checking out the
>>weather on a kiosk was not.
>>What do you think?  Is the term CMC too restrictive?
>I would disagree that CMC actually has to involve interaction at all. To 
>me CMC could be a checking out the weather on a kiosk webpage because CMC 
>covers the notion that I'm looking at communication on a computer. If I 
>want to talk about some kind of interaction happening via a computer, I 
>could also use CMC. But, as I said above, CMC doesn't have to do the duty 
>of specifically referring to every possible form of CMC. Checking out the 
>weather on a kiosk is patently not the same kind of interactive 
>communication as talking about the weather via email, but to differentiate 
>those we would want other terms anyway. If we were serious about 
>delineating interaction systems withing CMC, we might alter the *last* 
>term to make the kind of communication more specific, e.g. 
>'Computer-Mediated Interaction' or 'Computer-Mediated Webcasting' etc.
>On a practical level, CMC has also served very nicely to indicate what 
>many people are researching, and there is something to be said for that, 
>too. Then again, people have mooted lots of other terms to more 
>specifically delineate what they are doing, such as 'online-ethnography' 
>or 'cyber-sociology'.
>I wish my computer had mediated this email to improve its intelligability. ;)
>Until anon,
>E. Sean Rintel
>Communication Department
>University at Albany
>State University of New York
>1400 Washington Avenue
>Albany, NY, USA, 12222-0001
>Air-l mailing list
>Air-l at aoir.org

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