Individual-Social Perspective. Computer-Mediated Communication

In a previous section we presented an overview of research on gender differences, attitudes toward the impact of computers on society, and the use of computers in the workplace. Each of these issues relates to the effects of computers on human social relations.

One prevalent perception is that as people spend time on the Internet instead of engaging with people face-to-face they will become more isolated, lonely, and depressed, and that as the kinds of social discourse available online to them may be less meaningful and fulfilling, they could lose social support. As we discussed, increased Internet use may at times be a result of loneliness, not a cause of it. The emerging research about this concern is inconclusive, making this an important area for further research.

Kling lists additional social controversies about the computerization of society: class divisions in society; human safety and critical computer systems; democratization; the structure of labor markets; health; education; military security; computer literacy; and privacy and encryption. These controversies have yet to be resolved and are still being studied by behavioral scientists.

Psychologists explore the influence of computers on relationships among people, not only in terms of their online behaviors and interactions, but also their perceptions of themselves and one another. Power among relationships is sometimes renegotiated because of differing attitudes and competencies with technology.

One researcher proposed that relatively lower computer expertise among fathers in contrast to their sons, and a sense of dependence on their sons for technical support, can change the family dynamic and emasculate fathers, reducing perceptions of their strength and of their own sense of competence.

 

Computer-Mediated Communication. Much research on computer-human interactions is developed in the context of using computers to communicate with other people. Computer-mediated communication (CMC) is a broad term that covers forms of communication including e-mail, listservs, discussion groups, chat, instant messaging, and videoconferencing. In comparison with face-to-face communication, CMC has fewer social and nonverbal cues but allows people to communicate easily from different places and different times.

Computer-supported collaborative work systems we discussed in regard to computers in the workplace are examples of specialized CMC systems that facilitate collaborative group work. They include many forms of communication, allowing both synchronous and asynchronous interactions among multiple participants. In the cases of chat, instant messaging, and videoconferencing, people communicate at the same time but may be in different locations.

E-mail, listservs, and discussion groups have the added benefits and difficulties of asynchronous communication. The reduction in social and nonverbal cues in these forms of communication can be problematic, as people misinterpret messages that are not carefully constructed and may respond negatively. It has been found that these problems diminish with experience. As users adapt to the medium and create means of improving communication, and become more adept using linguistic cues, differences between CMC and face-to-face communication may be lessened.

Social norms and conventions within groups serve to reduce individual variability across formats rendering CMC similar to face-to-face communication, especially in established organizations. For example, messages from superiors receive more attention than messages from coworkers or from subordinates.

Research on learning in the workplace and in educational institutions has examined CMC’s ability to support the transfer of knowledge (an ‘‘instructional’’ perspective) and the social, co-construction of knowledge (a ‘‘conversational’’ perspective). Grabe and Grabe discuss how CMC can change the role of the teacher, effectively decentering interactions so that students feel freer to communicate and to become more involved in their own learning.

CMC results in more diverse participation and a greater number of interactions among students when compared with traditional classroom discussion characterized by longer periods of talking by the teacher and shorter, less complex individual responses from students. With CMC, instructors can focus on observing and facilitating student learning and can intervene to help with scaffolding or direct instruction as needed.

Structure provided by the teacher during CMC learning is important to help create a social presence and to encourage participation. Grabe and Grabe suggest that teachers assume responsibility for managing the discussion by defining the overall purpose of the discussion, specifying roles of participants, establishing expectations, and responding to negative or passive behaviors. In a study of interaction in an online graduate course, increased structure led to more interaction and increased dialogue.

Another potential area for discussion, computer-supported collaborative learning, is somewhat beyond the scope of this article but is included in our reading list.

Access. Behavioral scientists are interested in what inequities exist in access to technology, how the inequities developed, and what can be done to reduce them. Until recently, the number of computers in schools was significantly lower for poorer communities. These data are changing, and the differences are diminishing. However, socioeconomic factors continue to be powerful predictors for whether people have computers or Internet access in their homes.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) reported that, although Internet use is increasing dramatically for Americans of all incomes, education levels, ages, and races, many inequities remain. Individuals in high-income households are much more likely to be computer and Internet users than those in low-income households (over 80% for the highest income households; 25% for the lowest income households).

Age and level of education are also powerful predictors: Computer and Internet use is higher among those who are younger and those who are more highly educated. In addition, people with mental or physical disabilities are less likely than others to use computers or the Internet.

Many inequities in access to computers are declining. According to the NTIA’s report, rates of use are rising much more rapidly among poorer, less educated, and elderly people, the very groups who have been most disadvantaged. The report attributes this development to the lowering cost of computer technology, and to the expanding use of the Internet at schools, work, and libraries, which makes these resources available to people who do not own computers.

 






Date added: 2024-03-07; views: 77;


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