Sept. 20 – Changes in Interpersonal Communication

Sep 14, 2011 by     13 Comments    Posted under: Online Reading Response

Here, in the comments section below, you will post your response to one or more of the following readings:

  •  Nicola Döring and Sandra Pöschl, “Nonverbal Cues in Mobile Phone Text Messages: The Effects of Chronemics and Proxemics” in The Reconstruction of Space and Time
  •  Constant Touch, Part 3 (Ch. 11-16)
  •  Rich Ling, “ICT and Tension between Social and Individual Impulses,” in New Tech, New Ties

You must post your response by 11am on Tuesday, Sept. 20.

13 Comments + Add Comment

  • Can the texting space become a virtual community in and of itself, or is it limited to being a method of fostering the real-life community? The examples of text affecting society from Jon Agar’s Constant Touch somewhat resemble the dynamics of virtual communities such as text-based MOOs. In particular, the power of SMS helped change the Philippines government, while text is the primary medium in the negotiation of power in some virtual worlds. The natural hierarchy of all-powerful wizard creators in those virtual worlds can clash with the citizens’ goals of self-governed democracy (see Lastowka and Hunter). The idea of “a weakening of centralized hierarchies in the face of strengthening networks” (Agar 112) comes into play in both situations, allowing the will of the people expressed or furthered through text to enact political change. However, unless there is the ability to congregate and socialize in larger groups within the texting space, as allowed in MOOs, the communication will only be able to supplement reality rather than stand as its own.

    F. Gregory Lastowka & Dan Hunter, The Laws of the Virtual Worlds, 92 Cal. L. Rev. 1 (Jan. 2004)

  • Döring and Pöschl argue that SMS is a method of communication that reduces social inhibitions, but even texting, an asynchronous medium, brings a new set of social cues with it. Every form of communication seems to have some set of parameters that can be interpreted in subtle ways. In terms of texting, the underlying meanings of chronemics are something I often struggle to work out. For example, if I reply to a text as soon as I get it, am I signifying that I consider you a priority, or am I coming off as overly eager? In that vein, how should I interpret a late text, or a completely ignored text?
    Additionally, many people don’t consider texts as having social cues at all; texts are just a way to transmit information. For them, texting becomes more like email, in that a reply will take place whenever it is convenient, regardless of time. The disconnect occurs when people with varying views on texting communicate. As someone who generally tries to reply soon after I get a text, it can be frustrating getting a response back hours later, especially if the original message was time-sensitive.
    The lack of an established cell phone etiquette seems unlikely to be addressed any time soon. There is still a divide between those who favor being in “constant touch” with anyone, anytime, and those who believe that the focus should remain on only those in present company. For example, how should we treat texting when out with friends? Is it intrusive, or just an extension of the socializing we’re currently doing?

  • There is a commonly-heard refrain that textual forms of communication are destroying interaction because of their removal of nonverbal (and paraverbal) cues. Döring and Pöschl address and refute this, citing a variety of nonverbal cues that can be drawn from SMS messages, both “given” and “given off.” However, I believe that the dynamics of these communications are still changed, though by the differing nature of these cues rather than the lack thereof. In a conversation in which the participants can see each other, the nonverbal cues which are “given off” tend to reflective of the feelings or deeper meaning of an interlocutor, and can be easily interpreted as such. In a textual conversation, however, so little is clear about the situations of the participants that cues that seem to one person to have been “given off” by the other person might not at all reflect the reasons that that cue appeared. For instance, consider a person sending a chat or text message to another, soliciting a response. That response is very slow in coming. The initiator may interpret this delay as a lack of interest. It may be caused by a variety of other factors, such as inability to respond, failure to notice the message, or technical troubles. The initiator has no way to judge, and may jump to the wrong conclusion.

  • While reading part three of Constant Touch, I was struck by a quote I encountered at the end of Chapter 13. What Cellphone, who was reporting on the new Nokia 3210 phone, interviewed Janice Caprice, a London beauty therapist. Caprice and her friends were infatuated with the ability to change the color of the new phone simply by selecting another “Xpress-on” facia. Caprice said, “It’s got to be eye-catching, anything from the British flag to a flower. Most of my friends buy a phone because they can get a cover for it. I bought an Ericsson PH337 for that very reason but that’s old now so I’m saving up for a Nokia next.” I not only agree with Caprice’s point, but I feel that it might be an interesting cultural topic to address in our upcoming essay. The design of phones, and the ability to personalize them with items such as covers and stickers, is very popular among cellphone users. Cellphone covers are not just a way to protect the phone from being damaged; they are now a way for people to make a personal statement about themselves through their technology.

  • Rich Ling says that the tendency of people to contribute towards collective behavior, what Putnam called “social capital” is decreasing, and individuality is increasing. Examining Putnam’s research, it does seem that there has been a shift away from social capital. Community bonds have become weaker, in part because of technology. However, I don’t think that the changes that Putnam noted necessarily mark a shift away from sociation as much as they mark a shift away from certain forms of sociation. For example, he remarks that surfing the internet and playing video games steals time that might otherwise be spent interacting with neighbors and the community. He doesn’t seem to look at ways that technology can contribute to society though.

  • As an Anthopology/Psychology major, it was extremely interesting to read Döring and Pöschl’s writing/study about texting. In anthropology, body language and ritual are extremely important parts of the culture. It is obvious, from reading the article and just simply being in a society where texting is common, that texting has become deeply embedded in our culture and there is even a sort of mini-culture surrounding it. From the abbreviations and emoticons to the response timing, texting obviously has rules and traditions that can give simple-seeming messages a much deeper meaning. A friendly message sent at night seems more intimate, as they point out, because visiting/calling/being in contact with someone later at night when they might consider this their personal time suggests a closeness with the individual, that the person making contact knows the person being contacted well enough to bend the normal rules of contact (only during business hours/early evening). All of these articles/chapters are very interesting to me because I wish to study the effects of technology on Anthropology and Psychology. The replacement of certain social cues was particularly interesting. The time before a response indicates the person’s eagerness, the length of the text their degree of involvement. There have been studies on the propinquity effect, how people are more likely to become friends with those around them. Several studies have shown that repeated exposure to something makes us regard it more favorably (if we don’t really hate it). Technology such as texting has made it so much easier to create this “Constant Touch,” which means that physical distance probably has less impact then it used to. There are some things that mobiles and such cannot replace, but they do make practically instantaneous communication easier.

  • At the beginning of the “ICT and Tensions” chapter of New Tech, New Ties, Ling asks if mobile communication contributes to or destroys social cohesion. Although popular mobile technologies, such as cell phones, iPads, etc., are convenient and excellent for on-the-go communication, I would argue that these methods of mobile communication have been misused. A cell phone, which was designed to enable communication regardless of the caller’s location, has become an all-in-one customizable object that contains music, maps, and social musings. One might argue that the cell phone isn’t just a vibrating chunk of metal you stick in your pocket, but a “party in your pants,” where your social existence thrives, where a vibration is just like the buzz emanating from your house, which is (of course) playing the most popular music and is easily accessible using a map application.

    Ling argues that, although mobile technology is increasingly catered to individuals, collective social groups must be involved in transforming mobile communication. That chunk of metal may be “party central,” but it begins with relationships away from technology and the practice of social capital to effectively utilize mobile communication. Mobile communication can support, but not establish, social cohesion, and therefore must be utilized sparingly and appropriately.

  • In “Nonverbal Cues in Mobile Phone Text Messages,” the study performed by Nicola Döring and Sandra Pöschl showed no connection between the interpreted intimacy or dominance of a message and the location the message was sent from. Döring and Pöschl predicted that “…the unfamiliarity of location stamps hindered a consistent interpretation of this nonverbal cue.” While it is certainly the case that people take time to become familiar with new media, another factor could be the concept previously discussed in the readings of mobile communication creating a new perceived space of interaction. In other words, the physical location where the message was sent from does not matter because the interaction is taking place in the virtual mobile space.This could also be the same reason why people do not find it unusual to communicate via text message when sitting next to one another. My theory, then, is that sending from a mobile carries its own set of nonverbal cues as a location, though to test this another study would have to be run comparing perceived intimacy and dominance of sending messages from a mobile device versus a desktop computer or a public terminal, for example.

  • The ousting of the Philippine’s president Joseph Estrada is a familiar story that is unfolding around us today. Upon reading this part in Constant Touch, I could not help myself but constantly think of the parallelism to the unrest in the Middle East. The digital networking has allowed a new aspect to how societies are able to rally in cultural shifts, and the mobile phone has acted as perhaps the primary tool to carry out these actions. Facebook was a prominently noted for helping foster the uprising in Egypt and Tunisia and gain support from the outside world. However, the cellphones were used to bring content to these social networks. When reporters were unable to capture images of conflict, it was the raw, unedited cellphone videos that gave a personal view of the conflicts going on in the middle east. In contrast, the revolution in the Philippines seemed to only be facilitated by dissatisfaction spread through text message within the country. So why is it that the uprising in the Middle East is portrayed as the forefront of revolution via networking when the Philippines came before? The reason is perhaps potential. Perhaps the key to using mobile phones effectively was, as i stated, a social network to connect the devices to a comprehensive system outside of the real world. In 1998, the Filipino population could probably at most get in contact with friends and relatives. Text messages could only flow linearly, from the original composer to a friend, tho their friend, to their friend, ect. This method makes the message sound more or less like a rumor passed ear to ear. On the other hand, Facebook provided a sort of publication and promotion that moved less linearly like word of mouth, since users could not only be in contact with friends, but also complete strangers around the globe. Another reason behind the current uprisings be more popular is perhaps the advances in technology and portability. Had the revolution in Egypt been portrayed solely by text messages, credibility would be hard to determine since the original author could have distorted any information. Rather, it was the add on of camera phones that provided evidence visually as opposed verbally. The added evidence gave rioters a more solid reason to justify their actions when word of mouth can be misleading. To sum up, Constant Touch provides a very good example as to how mobile devices were used to change society, however the changes in technology and culture have perhaps made the the Philippine uprising an outdated model for digital mobile since it had not shown a true use of mobile potential.

  • An overarching theme that Jon Agar concluded chapter 11, Txt Msgs + TxtPower, with was the idea that we are shifting “away from centralized hierarchical modes of organisation towards decentralized networks”. This concept is symbolized through the mobile phone and the Internet. The personal change that I can relate to this idea is the use of land lines. Before the cell phone became a necessity, any incoming calls had to go through the centralized system of a shared land line. Now, when nearly every single person owns a mobile phone, any incoming calls can go directly to the person that the caller intends for it to go to. With the rise of texting, especially with our generation, I feel as though we are in the middle of yet another shift from the act of talking on a phone to primarily texting as a means of communication. The information we communicate with one another becomes even more decentralized in the form of bytes that is a text message. Is it possible to completely shift from one mode of communication to another, where we abandon the former mode? If modes of communicating are constantly being replaced, what new technology can possibly replace texting?

  • The effect of texting within the Philippines that Agar mentions in Constant Touch is extremely interesting. Firstly, the affordable pricing of mobile phones and especially of texting resulted in many people, including the poor, having access to this mode of communication. What is more interesting, however, is the way that texting on mobile phones took off in the Philippines as a way of showing and acting on disillusion with the political elite. The way in which texting played a role in ousting the Filipino President Joseph Estrada is notably reminiscent of the “Facebook Revolution” in Libya this year. They are both cases of a widely available mode of communication being used to spread dissent towards, and ultimately play a significant role in the downfall of, members of the political elite. Ideas and messages can spread quickly and without much risk or censorship, and this enables feelings of dissent among the people to grow very quickly. The ability for the poor to communicate quickly and widely results in leaders in less democratic and less developed nations being held accountable far more than before.

  • In ,The Reconstruction of Space and Time by Rich Ling, Ling presents several ideas and studies about CMC and human interaction. One that struck me as the most shocking was the results of a study done by Walther and Tidwell in 1995, which showed that a message can be perceived differently based on the time that it was sent (the “time stamp”). I feel that this may have something to do with how we are naturally wired – because of circadian rhythms, the nighttime is usually a time of calm and rest. As a result, we are more relaxed, and our interpretations seem to also follow suit. I personally feel that a message must be more urgent and important during the evening hours, as the evening is usually a time where people keep to themselves.
    Along with response times, the idea of controlling response times to create a perceived image was also something I found extremely interesting, and something I have done in the past without realizing. We seem to put so much thought and analyze the time between a sent message and when we receive a response, that it has become necessary to control this time gap in certain situations. I have found this especially true when it comes to speaking to employers by e-mail: I find that I want to portray myself as eager, but not too eager, and finding a balance can be a challenge.

  • Many people today frown upon text messaging because they claim it is impersonal and not nearly as intimate as a phone call or in-person conversation. However, Pöschl and Döring address this subject and show that text messages truly are full of nonverbal cues, just as an in-person conversation is. Text messages are not completely emotionless, because people are able to show some of their emotions by including emoticons and other expressions. In addition, one of the main nonverbal cues involved in text messaging is the response time: how long it takes someone to answer you after you send them a message. People put a lot of meaning into this response time, taking a quick response to mean that the person is being attentive, thoughtful, and is interested in the conversation, and a long response time to mean that the person is not very concerned with the conversation or even is possibly upset with the sender. It’s interesting how much we read out of the response time alone, since we really have no idea what the other person is doing that is preventing them from responding immediately. Many times, our thoughts about why it took someone so long to respond are completely wrong, and the person was simply busy and unable to respond. So text messages definitely contain many nonverbal cues, however they are still quite different from an in-person or phone conversation. While the latter are forms of synchronous communication, the former is most definitely asynchronous. Our society views synchronous communication as much more personal, because you feel like you have a connection with the other person while you are communicating, which is not typically possible with asynchronous communication like text messaging. If you are having a conversation in person or over the phone with someone, then you are usually only talking to that one person, and they have your full attention. However with text messaging, you could be texting many different people all at the same time, and possibly even forget what one person was talking about and have to read back through the conversation to refresh your memory before replying. For this reason, text messaging is still considered much more impersonal than a phone call or in-person conversation, despite the fact that there really are many nonverbal cues contained in a text message.

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