Sub-cultures and Cross-cultural Communication

image of a spinning globe

As we discuss participation in virtual communities, it is important to recognize that similar to the physical world, individuals are often members of many different groups. (Gordon, p.41) "People are often members of a number of different social networks, each based on different types of relationships and perhaps different communication media." (Garton et al, p.10) People participate in different groups to fulfill various needs and goals. The online world is no exception to this factioning. It may be helpful to imagine the online world as you do the real world, as they are similarly structured. "Just like the real world (the offline world), everyone online doesn't live in the same place, even though getting from one place to another on the Interbahn is amazingly simple. The online landscape is a tapestry of virtual cities, towns, and villages." (Internet, p.4) The author of the previous quote hypothesizes that it may be human nature to gather and interact in small groups. "The concept of a global community comes from the fact that the Internet is like a vast, global interstate highway system, but forgets that, even though we have the ability to travel from one city to another, we still have the human need to carve out one small place to call home." (Internet, p.4) BBSs, in particular, have proven to be ideal places for on-line "travelers" to gather and form communities. (For more information about BBSs see the directory at the bottom of this page).

However, despite the fact that evidence abounds regarding sub-cultures within the on-line world, there is ample attention given to the concept of the "global village", and the "netizens" of the 21st century. Netizen is a term coined to refer to someone who uses networked resources. The term, derived from the word citizen, implies civic responsibility and participation. (Glossary, p.13)

Some people believe that increased global interconnectivity has the potential to create a world citizen. "The history of the modern communications media is….also a political history of their increasing centrality to the exercise of full citizenship. In its most general sense, citizenship is about the conditions that allow people to become full members of the society at every level." (p.21-22) Although increased access to information and improved communications across cultures will help individuals to look beyond their immediate locus it may be premature to throw away your current passport in hopes of becoming an Internet "netizen". Certainly however, the active participation of the computer-based community audience is "challenging the dominance of traditional mass media". (Yu, p. 89)

Computer mediated communication's (CMC's) ability to create borderless communities raises questions about cross-cultural communication. While increased communication between disparate groups is desirable, there are some realistic hurdles to overcome. The most obvious barrier to cross-cultural communication is language. While a majority of BBS services are conducted in English, there are many sites that utilize different languages as well. On-line translation services are one means of facilitating cross-cultural language issues. One such service is Uni-Verse. However, it should be noted that this particular translation service first translates the text into English, and then into the desired language.

CMC may have the potential to eliminate some difficulties usually associated with cross-cultural communication. Discrepancies in interpreting nonverbal communications, word pronunciation and accents are all non-issues in an on-line format. And, as mentioned earlier, the increased control over response time within the CMC setting should further serve to facilitate cross-cultural communication.

In addition to the increased social presence audio and video applications can provide, unique text based applications have also developed which enhance the interpersonal aspect of on-line communication. Some examples are shown below.