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H807 – When less is more (A6.1)

March 15, 2011

I should follow the above advise, considering how much I have to catch up, a full week and I still have no interview partner, haven’t started with the TMA, not even wrote the 800 word report we were asked weeks ago about the JISC studies, because I never made my way through all the studies, and I have a pile of test to grade for school 😦 Well, this advise was not given to work less, but we are talking about social cues or the lack of it in mediated communication technologies, like telephone or letters, but in particular computer-mediated communication (CMC), like forums, blogs, etc.

This activity is about investigating social and visual clues, like e.g. emoticons and to evaluated Draft and Lengel’s assumption that the ‘increased ‘richness’ provided by visual cues in a mediated communication inevitable leads to improved outcomes’.

Talking about social cues and how they complement and facilitate communication, reminded my on my course ‘Communication in Health and Social care’ (K309) which I took 2008. Communication was described as:

… dynamic basic human process, which goes far beyond simple linguistic transfer of information. Thereby people actively interact and create new meanings during their interaction.

In our first assessment we had to consider the benefits or challenges of mediated communication, mainly telephone and email and how that could impact on the communication between social and health workers and the user of this services.

This is an extract from my assessment:

Communication via telephone, mobile-phone and e-mail is faster, easier and allows greater accessibility and more communication than before. Information are more readily available from varies sources, and a greater exchange of information across organisational and geographical boundaries is possible, hence facilitating greater cooperation. This can benefit the user, but confidentiality and privacy might be at risk, and user might feel controlled. But faster does not necessarily imply better communication. Overall, it may induce superficiality, reduces the amount of face-to-face communication which makes it more impersonal and distant. Misunderstandings may arise, in absence of other modes of communication (e.g. body language and facial expression) and because “emotions are difficult to evaluate in a telephone conversation and may be taken out of context”. Hence, it has drawbacks in terms of quality and the nature of communication and relationships.

The predictions presented here align with Draft and Engel (1984) or other early predictions that view CMC as a medium that is well suited to conveying plain information, but unsuitable for carrying socio-emotional information. Using CMC means a reduction of visual cues, both static (gender, dress, location and so on) and dynamic (e.g. facial expression, body language conveying feedback). In asynchronous communication (e.g. email, forum) we also lose the immediacy of feedback. Hence, communication lacks quality compared to face-to-face communication.

However things changed. Walther (1994) argued ‘that what mattered wasn’t the absolute amount of socialness of a technology, but rather the rate at which social information is exchanged. Please note, Walther mentioned that already 1994, 2008 when I had to write my assignment, thus I don’t know how much really changed. I just recently attended a Moodle course here in Germany, and most participants voiced how difficult they find communicating online, missing this social and visual cues. They emphasised how important it was for them to meet first face-to-face to locate a person to a message. However, I agree that training can greatly improve online communication and personally I don’t view CMC as the inferior type of communication. This is in accordance with e.g. Utz (2000) or Walther (1992) who argue that the communication of social information in an online environment requires ‘the learning, and use, of linguistic and textual cues to convey relational information’. It make take some time to develop adequate skills in paralanguage to competently convey relational information. Time is also a factor identifies by Walther et al. (1994)  who conducted a meta-analysis and found out that there is a positive relationship between time and socio-emotional communication. As more time is offered for CMA as higher the level of socio-emotional communication. Considering the time factor and the restricted time we have I could conclude that our communication in the forum lacks this quality in communication 😕 Do you agree?

Although I learned that there are cultural differences in meanings in communication and in gestures I somehow assumed that emoticons are somehow international. Who don’t know the ‘Smiley’ or the ‘Wink’, however have a look at the Japanese emoticons. The link was provided from a tutor in the forum. It shows ‘Europe’ vs. Japanese emoticons.

  • 🙂 laughing (^_^)
  • :-S worried  (ーー;)
  • :^) wondering / troubled (>_<)>
  • 😥 crying  (ToT)

Warkentin and Beranek (1999) claim that training in the use of emoticons can improve collaborative working. However, the preferences about the use of emoticons is quite divided in our forum. My preference is quite clear seeing the amount of emoticons in my blog posts. If I use them adequately and if they really improve communication, I can just guess.

I even see a couple of advantages taken forums for example. The lack of immediate feedback can be also viewed as advantage. I have enough time to read and I have time to think about my response. Writing this blog or writing an email to e.g. arrange an appointment  can be done 24/7 and facilitates communication between different locations and time zones. For me that is one main advantage of CMC, to span distance. How would I communicate with my friends all over the world.

I strongly agree with e.g. Spears and Lea (1992) that CMC technologies can increase a stronger feeling of belonging, contrary to face-to-face settings. The group seems more homogenous without visual cues, leading to a greater group identification. I can strongly confirm that, I never experienced the same support (moral and academic) and social cohesion in a face-to-face course as I experience it here studying with the OU. Communication is of course task-oriented, because we study, but like I said to it also strongly socially oriented.  That confirms Walter’s ‘hyperpersonal interaction’ and shows that less can be indeed more.

However, I have to object. Face-to-face communication comes with many problems as well.  Considering all the couples that suffer from relational problems, because their communication fails, even though  the have the all the visual cues.


Daft, R.L and Lengel, R.H. (1984) ‘Information richness: a new approach to managerial behavior and organization design’, Research in Organizational Behavior, vol.6, pp.191–233.

Spears, R. and Lea, M. (1992) ‘Social influence and the influence of the “social” in computer-mediated communication’ in Lea, M. (ed.) Contexts in Computer-mediated Communication, London, Harvester Wheatsheaf, pp.30–64.

Utz, S. (2000) ‘Social information processing in MUDs: the development of friendships in virtual worlds’, Journal of Online Behavior, vol.1, no.1 [online] (Accessed 2 December 2010).

Walther, J.B. (1992) ‘Interpersonal effects in computer-mediated communication: a relational perspective’, Communication Research, vol.19, pp.52–90.

Walther, J.B. (1994) ‘Anticipated ongoing interaction versus channel effects on relational communication in computer-mediated interaction’, Human Communication Research, vol.20, no.4, pp.473–501.

Walther, J.B. (1996) ‘Computer-mediated communication: impersonal, interpersonal, and hyperpersonal interaction’, Communication Research, vol.23, pp.3–43.

Warkentin, M. and Beranek, P.M. (1999) ‘Training to improve virtual team communication’, Information Systems Journal, vol.9, no.4, pp.271–89.

From → H807

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  1. H809 – New vs. old theme – Readings 11 and 12 (A11.6) « Sylvia's Blog

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