As the twenty-first century approaches, the world population is quickly becoming aware of the dominant role computers will play in all facets of life.   One  area in which computers have already played a pivotal role is communications.   In the last hundred years alone communication has leaped from oral “face to face” (FtF) conversations to instant global interaction through both auditory and visual means.   The computer has allowed this leap to take place.  Business embraces this technological advance for its economic advantages over traditional means of global communication.  Academia embraces the technology as a study in how effective computers can act as a communication medium.  The most common form of communications using computers, also known as Computer Mediated Communications (CMC),  utilizes text.  Although pictures and sounds can be sent via computers, text is still the most common CMC tool and therefore the most studied by scholars.  

            Since the mid 1980’s collegiate, secondary and even primary students have been exposed to e-mail, a commonly used form of text based CMC.   Many in the academic community warned that CMC could not act as an effective medium for communication due to the lack of all non-verbal and some verbal information.   Facial expressions, hand gestures, voice pitch and tone as well as many other linguistic factors that lead to successful interpretation of communications are lost in a text-only environment. Studies from that time period by Hiemstra’s (1982), Dubrovsky, Kiesler & Sethna (1984),  Sproul & Kiesler (1986) and many others suggested that CMC would lead to impersonal and cold communication.   Since then computers have become a more apparent part of society and recent studies have given CMC a much better outlook.  Even a review of mid-80’s research has shown alternate interpretations which not only minimize the negative results of CMC, but actually qualify CMC as an effective communications alternative.

            Telephones, radios and televisions took decades to integrate into society.  In the last ten years CMC has gained acceptance as a valid and effective form of  communication.  Mass social change maybe at the root of this phenomenon, but this paper offers a closer look at earlier CMC studies through the perspectives generated by the research of Joseph B. Walther.  He argues that past research has been slanted and needs to be reevaluated within the context of new theories in order to better understand the complex factors which make up CMC.

Literature Review

Walther, J. B. (1994).  Anticipated Ongoing Interaction Versus Channel effects       on Relational Communication in Computer-Mediated Interaction  Human Communication Research, 20, 473-429.

Biographical Information

            Joseph Walther obtained a Ph.D. at the University of Arizona in 1990.  He is an assistant professor of Communication Studies at Northwestern University.

Problem

            One-shot CMC groups are less personal than FtF groups, but first meetings among  long term CMC groups are just as personal as FtF groups’ encounters.  No clear reasons have emerged to explain this phenomenon and  this may have led to  misleading results over the last two decades of CMC research.

Review/Rationale

            CMC studies can be categorized into two general fields; CMC’s effects on communication, and media selection.   Among the research focused on understanding CMC’s effects on communication there are varied results.  The majority of early studies suggest a focus on task oriented communication among CMC groups.  These studies also offer the idea that CMC groups are less social than FtF groups. 

            Later studies offer new research which contradict the earlier findings.  Walther proposes that the anticipated future interaction, the likelihood of meeting someone again, among members of FtF groups is much greater than that of “one-shot, zero-history, CMC-only groups”(1994).   Many earlier studies did not address this issued.  Furthermore, groups with extended interactions in CMC are influenced more by anticipated future interaction than short-term CMC groups or FtF groups.

Methods

            One hundred fourteen  students from three different departments at two Midwestern universities were recruited and assigned to three person groups.   Each group was given one of two assignments to vary anticipated future interaction.   Given three tasks over six weeks, some groups were told that each task would be accomplished with different partners.  The other groups would accomplish all three tasks with their initial group partners.   The two assignments were accomplished via one of three interaction methods.  One CMC method allowed group members to read and enter comments at any time.  The other CMC approach was a real time interaction among members through a text based computer program which allowed a window for each member to respond to others.   Finally,  FtF groups met in conference rooms to accomplish their task.  In all cases, each group was given the same task and the same pretests and posttests.

Results/Conclusions

            Walther’s hypothesis that groups with extended interactions in CMC are influenced more by anticipated future interaction than short-term CMC groups or FtF groups was supported by this study.   The results show that media affects the perception of anticipated future interaction.  Walther suggests that a clarification must be made between the one-shot CMC groups of past studies and the more personal interaction among long-term CMC groups.  Walther’s research also shows that as anticipation increases, task oriented communication is balanced with an increase in social communication.

Evaluation

            Walther explains his distrust of earlier research with the benefit of new perspectives towards CMC groups.  Earlier research failed to examine the differences that possible future interaction has on CMC group members.  The detailed explanations of the methods used to implement this study support the appropriateness of the study’s procedures.   Walther does qualify his findings and therefore compiles warranted conclusions, which could be argued to be too conservative.

                                                Literature Review

Walther, J. B. (1995). Relational Aspects of Computer-mediated Communications: Experimental Observations over Time.  Organization Science, 6, 186-203.

Biographical Information

            Joseph Walther obtained a Ph.D. at the University of Arizona in 1990.  He is an assistant professor of Communication Studies at Northwestern University.

Problem

            Past studies have inconsistent conclusions regarding the affect CMC has on interpersonal interaction.  Factors such as time, nonverbal behavior in FtF groups and comparison groups have caused previous research to conclude CMC is a task oriented communication medium with little or no apparent social communication.

Review/Rationale

            Walther asks, what do organizations use communication for?  While both task and relational communication is present in organizational communication,  research shows confusion among scholars who try to explain what roles various media take in organizational communication.   Walther explains that there is an importance of understanding how technology affects relational communication.  Laboratory studies have shown CMC to be ill suited for relational interaction.   Field research, on the other hand, negates these studies and shows “warm collegial relations and growing friendships”(1995).   Walther offers the effects of time, data-gathering procedures and the perspective of the observer as problem areas in previous research which may lead to inconsistencies in findings.  Walther proposes seven hypotheses which focus on how the interaction of time with CMC affect the seven dimensions of intimacy as defined by Burgoon and Hale(1984).   The seven dimensions are immediacy/affection, receptivity/trust, similarity/depth, composure/relaxation, dominance/inequality, formality and task-social orientation.

Immediacy/affection relates to involvement and inclusion of communicators.  Receptivity/trust incorporates openness and the desire to be trusted.   Similarity/depth combines the parallelism of attitudes and the familiarity of relationships.  Composure/relaxation reflects levels of repose versus tension.  Dominance/inequality includes attempts to persuade, command and control others.  Formality is self explanatory and task-social orientation simply focuses on the amount of personal versus work-related communication.

Methods

            Ninety-six students were divided into groups of three.  Sixteen groups were asked to meet in a classroom three times over a five week period and hold FtF meetings to accomplish certain tasks.  The other sixteen groups were allowed to interact at their own discretion over the same five week period via COSY, computer conferencing system.  This is a text based program which lets communicators post, read and re-read messages as well as combine comments from previous postings from multiple terminals on the college campus or by way of home computers.

            The FtF groups were video taped and the CMC groups’ messages were recorded.  In the case of the FtF groups coders watched the central 10 minutes of the video tape three times; each time focusing their attention on a different group member.  Coders received three different versions of the central nine pages of the CMC group’s communications.  Each version highlighted a different group member which allowed the coders to analyze each member separately.  1One hundred ninety-two coders were used to assess the participants in the experiments.  To make sure a consistency among coders existed ten percent of the results were checked for reliability and were found to be consistent.

Results/Conclusions

            CMC groups rated higher in immediacy/affection than FtF groups at all three stages of the five week period.  CMC groups rated higher in similarity/depth than FtF groups, but did not increase across the five week period.  CMC groups were identical to FtF groups in composed/relaxation and then scored successively higher at each time as FtF groups actually lowered in composed/relaxation.  CMC groups became more informal over time while FtF groups’ formality was inconsistent.  CMC groups are more dominant during initial contact than FtF groups.  Beyond initial contact, however, dominance became similar among FtF and CMC groups.  In regards to receptivity/trust, FtF groups scored the same as CMC groups.  FtF groups were surprisingly more task oriented than CMC groups.  CMC groups began with more social oriented interaction and became increasingly social throughout the five week period.

Evaluation

            Walther combines a detailed account of theories and his own experiment in an attempt to prove that past research on CMC is flawed.  His experiment contradicts many older theories and therefore is open to much scrutiny.  His methods are sound and have remarkable implications.  Walther is able to show through adequate explanation of his results how CMC is an effective communication medium for both social and task oriented interaction.           

Literature Review

Walther, J. B. (1996).  Computer-Mediated Communication: Impersonal,     Interpersonal, and Hyperpersonal Interaction    Communication Research, 23,             3-41.

Biographical Information

            Joseph Walther obtained a Ph.D. at the University of Arizona in 1990.  He is an assistant professor of Communication Studies at Northwestern University.

Problem

            Studies have shown CMC as ineffective and impersonal.  

Review/Rationale

            There is an extensive list of research done on the impersonal nature of CMC.  Many studies from the mid to late 1980’s argue that CMC, as a form of written communication, does note contain enough information to be used in task oriented communication.  Other studies  suggest that due to limited social cues CMC is inappropriate and ineffective for interpersonal communication.  Walther disputes the ineffectiveness of CMC in both task and social settings.   He explains that as of 1991 there are over 19 million e-mail accounts in private and public systems in the United States.   His rationale for reassessing the negative attention CMC received is based on the fact that 19 million people wouldn’t consistently use a flawed form of communication.  Although Walther does not offer any hypothesis in this article he does cover two distinct areas within CMC and its interpersonal effects.   First, Walther attempts to combine theories and research findings regarding impersonal and interpersonal interaction in CMC by showing how certain circumstances desire these conditions.

Second, Walther offers new insight to the “heightened levels of intimacy, solidarity, and liking via CMC “(1996).   These increased levels may allow CMC to create  “hyperpersonal”(1996) interaction which exceeds FtF interpersonal communications.

Methods

            Although Walther did not conduct an experiment per se, he does use earlier research to support his two general arguments.

Results/Conclusions

            If CMC is in fact less personal than FtF, then task completion is facilitated.   Domination by a subgroup of a task group, inhibition among lower status members and conformity pressures are either lessened or completely eliminated in impersonal communication.  Conflict or relationship management detract from task resolution, therefore their elimination aids task completion.   Although the potential impersonal nature of CMC could aid task completion, CMC’s supposed impersonal nature is not completely accepted by Walther, as he explains that more recent research directly contradicts previous findings of the impersonal nature of communication.   The development of interpersonal qualities shown to be a function not of the amount of social information, but that of the rate at which social information is exchanged.   Although CMC caries less information per message, requires the user to learn a new linguistic code and is inherently slower than speech, given more time CMC conveys the same interpersonal information.

            Walther prefaces his discussion on “hyperpersonal CMC” by stating, “the formation of this approach is informed by disparate theories, it is best considered tentative”(1996).  Using the social identity-deindividuation (SIDE) theory, Walther explains that CMC’s lack of social cues cause CMC partners to exaggerate meanings from their communications.   Walther cites Goffman’s studies on the presentation of self when he shows that the sender within CMC can control self-presentation.  The information given by oneself is selective and subject to self-censorship more so in CMC than FtF.  Feedback plays an important role in hyperpersonal CMC.  Snyder, Tanke and Berscheid’s research in 1977 shows that in interactions like CMC a process called “behavioral confirmation”(1996) increases.   A sender’s communication is affected by expectations of the receiver, in turn the receiver reacts to that communication by conforming behavior to the expectations of the receiver.

Evaluation

            Walther has an interesting approach to showing that CMC is an effective form of communication.  He applies theories that may not originate from CMC research to certain applicable aspects of CMC.  Avoiding the statement of a hypothesis, Walther does narrow his discussion to two general topics: impersonal/ interpersonal communication and  hyperpersonal communication.   The argument against any conclusion that Walther derives is that his theories do not stem from CMC research and therefore may not apply as specifically as he uses them.  Assuming Walther does not infer too much, his conclusions are supported and consequently warranted.

Response

            Walther shows that CMC is an effective form of communication for both social and task oriented interaction.  He hypothesizes that anticipated future interaction is a cause for the inconsistencies found in earlier research.  The idea that CMC offers a new form of communication, which Walther calls hyperpersonal, is formulated from existing theories and research.  The adequacy of CMC as a medium for relational interaction is also supported by Walther’s experiment which compared the intimacy of FtF groups versus CMC groups. 

            Walther finds multiple errors in colleagues research and therefore attempts to eliminate any errors from his work.  Although he does an outstanding job of convincing readers that CMC is effective, Walther does miss some key questions.  His studies are based largely from an American student body.   This experiment base raises two immediate questions.  Can the elderly in America adapt to this medium realizing the fear that exists in adopting new technology?   More wide spread is the problem of intercultural communication.  CMC is a global communications medium.  In America, a low context culture, text based CMC conveys adequate information.  In high context cultures will text carry enough meaning for effective communication?

Beyond age and culture, people tend to weigh what and how much is said against the effort needed to say it.  CMC as a text based medium requires more effort than speaking.  Does text based CMC therefore lead people to qualify their communication?  

            These questions were not answered by Walther and therefore limit his research to a young, Americanized population.   This does not completely negate Walther’s work, but simply qualifies its applicability.  It is also fair to say that once video and sound are common in CMC the validity of CMC will be even more difficult to refute.   That day is quickly approaching.

Conclusion

            All of Walther’s research to date supports the idea that CMC is an effective form of communication for relational interaction.  His implicit theory is that earlier researchers were to hasty in heralding CMC as ineffective.   This facet of Walther’s research is of utmost importance because academia now has a perspective supporting what business has long assumed.   The validity of Walther’s research is also supported by the fact that anyone using some form of CMC can experience the successful incorporation of socially oriented interaction.    

            Throughout his career at Northwestern, Walther has challenged the idea that CMC is an inherently flawed medium.  The basis of his ideas do not stem from complex theorizing or involved laboratory experimentation, but from observing field research which clearly shows strong relationships having developed from CMC.   Walther proposes new perspectives on old theories and new theories on old perspectives to support his base of common sense observations.  Walther cites Rheingold’s 1993 article when he says that in CMC people get to know each other and then choose to meet each other, which is fundamentally different and possibly healthier than the traditional growth of relationships in which people meet one another and then get to know each other.

Bibliography

Walther, J. B. (1994).  Anticipated Ongoing Interaction Versus Channel effects       on Relational Communication in Computer-Mediated Interaction  Human Communication Research, 20, 473-429.

Walther, J. B. (1995). Relational Aspects of Computer-mediated Communications: Experimental Observations over Time.  Organization Science, 6, 186-203.

Walther, J. B. (1996).  Computer-Mediated Communication: Impersonal,     Interpersonal, and Hyperpersonal Interaction    Communication Research, 23,             3-41.