[Air-l] Re: synchronous/asynchronous

Sherri Condon scondon at mitre.org
Wed Feb 27 06:00:05 PST 2002

I've enjoyed the discussion of synchronicity because our work suggests that it is a powerful
factor in the communication strategies that people adopt.  The complexities that you all have
been describing have led us to define synchronous communication as interaction in which messages
are produced with the expectation that they will be processed and responded to immediately vs.
asynchronous communication in which it is anticipated that there will be unpredictably long
delays between the exchange of messages.

A factor that seems to account for many of the differences we observe in these environments is
the contiguity of context in synchronous communication, where people can rely on a common ground
and can alert each other reasonably quickly if there are any relevant changes in the context.
In contrast, asynchronous communication opens up the possibility that massive changes can occur
in the context between exchanges, and we have been struck by the fact that many epistolary
conventions such as dating letters and indicating the writer's location are also providing
contextual features.  Even the choice of a salutation is not only reflecting the relation
between writer and receiver,  but also reassuring that this relation still holds.

Of course, there is still much to be said about the differences among communication environments
that are all synchronous according to our definition.  I thought you folks might enjoy this
quotation from an especially perceptive participant in a study (cited below):

"the line-by-line nature of MOO communication smoothes out most minor lags in communication that
can be a major part of the impression you form of somebody. A MOO friend whom I've known
face-to-face for a number of years tends to be very soft-spoken and thoughtful in real life, but
on MOO this is invisible; there's no volume control and, given typing speeds, multitasking and
other factors, the pauses for thought are buried amidst the delays of the medium. On occasion
I've been on conferencing systems (like UNIX "talk") that are character-by-character. There's
definitely a different impression in this sort of communication; the lags in your typing are
visible and apparent, and if you're a decently fast typist you have no opportunity to reflect on
your words before sending them, no opportunity to see them on the screen and reconsider them."

Jacobson, David.  (1999. Impression Expectations and Offline Experiences in Text-based Virtual
Communities.   Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 5 (1).  Available:

Meanwhile, the poor fellow who started all this discussion still needs some sources, and the
problem is that there are so many places to look, but this bibliography of chat studies
definitely focuses on a synchronous environment:  http://www.chat-bibliography.de/

Finally, people who are interested in a study that compares people solving the same problems in
face-to-face, synchronous cmc, and e-mail can write to me or wait until the book comes out:

Condon, Sherri and Claude Cech.  "Discourse Management in Three Modalities."  In Herring, Susan,
ed. Computer-Mediated Conversation.  Hampton Press.


Sherri L. Condon, Ph.D.
The MITRE Corporation
11493 Sunset Hills Road
Reston, Virginia 20190-5214
Phone:  703-883-5522
E-mail:  scondon at mitre.org

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