Technology and Computer Mediated Communication

picture of a tv In order to appreciate why the term "technological revolution" has been bandied about in recent years it is helpful to understand the developments that have occurred within the telecommunications industry.

In 1995 Nicholas Negroponte, a founder of the MIT Media Lab, authored a book called being digital. The text is a manifesto for the digital age. Negroponte navigates the reader along the information highway, which he describes as "the global movement of weightless bits at the speed of light". (Negroponte, p.12) This definition refers to the ability of the new media technologies to transfer resources to their users via digital compression technology. This ability has played a paramount role in the current technological revolution by providing "better and more efficient delivery of what already exists". (Negroponte, p.18) In the digital world resources are infinite and varied. Video images, audio tracks, and animated graphics can all be transformed into digitized bits of information and exchanged via computer networks. "Being digital creates the potential for new content to originate from a whole new combination of sources." (Negroponte, p.19)

Computer networked "social capital" is one such example of this notion of new resource formation. Social capital refers to networks that provide social resources for their members. (Friedman, p. 189) A social network is comprised of individuals, organizations, or other social entities that are connected through a social relationship framework. Friendships, business relationships, and information exchanges are all examples of social relationships. It follows therefore, that a computer network that connects organizations or individuals is a social network. (Garton et al, p.2) Via these social capital networks participants can engage in "civic and community life that generates 'norms of reciprocity' and civic engagement. Assets-based development stresses locally generated knowledge that permits communities to mobilize their assets." (Friedland, p.189) When viewed as a social capital network, a community's ability to decentralize becomes apparent. This ability to decentralize is greatly enhanced by new and improved technologies. Computer social networks, by allowing, enabling, and encouraging active participation from all members, increase the flow of information in all directions. Additionally, the decentralization process generates a pattern of increased proliferation. As a network continues to decentralize and generate increasingly more input from various sources further exposure is gained and the process is repeated. (Friedman, p.157-189) Distribution groups are an example of how exposure can be increased. Unsolicited communications can be sent to multiple sites. In this manner previously unconnected individuals or groups then have a direct communication channel made available to them. An individual may receive a message from a distribution group that he or she finds interesting. That person may then decide to share the information by forwarding the message to several friends, further enlarging the sphere of the message. (Wellman et al, p.224)

One manner by which computer mediated communication (CMC) encourages participation is the nature of the medium's reduced focus upon attributes of the communicator and increased focus upon the communication message. Within a CMC environment, social cues, such as gender, social status, and race are largely eliminated. As a result, individuals may be more inclined to increase their involvement within this setting. (Garton et al, p.6) CMC is also facilitated by the on-line storage of information. In this manner communications between participants can occur asynchronously. picture of a tv saying 'stand by' This is an advantage in fostering international communications where time differences may otherwise hinder convenient simultaneous contact. The control over response time may also afford individuals more control over their communication responses. (Wellman et al, p. 217)

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Social Network Analysis
Sub-cultures and Cross-cultural Communication
Looking Ahead