BY SHARON A. ANGLEMAN
ARKANSAS STATE UNIVERSITY, JONESBORO, DECEMBER 2000
A Project Presented to Dr. O Dr. O. Amienyi, Professor of Radio/TV, and the ASU College of Communications in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements of Theory of Mass Communications, November 2000
Get connected and get in touch
James (1994) explains that communities in Cyberspace are realities that transcend the physical environment and encourages the development of real social groups with personalities. Many users describe how they use their computer as an extension of their self, their mind and their personality (Suler, 1999). In an analytical sense, the machines and the created "space" may become part of an intermediate self, one that bridges the physical and virtual, allowing a safe medium for expansion and discovery. It is not unusual for users to feel a meta-connectedness (authorís term) with the people and things in their cyber-environment (Angleman, 2000; Suler, 1999). Aesthetics and our love for technology may provide the initial appeal of the Internet, but once there, itís as if we are viewing a huge, living metropolis from 5,000 feet up, in the dark of night (Hiem 1993). We are then as moths to a flame of universal "centeredness."
Our motivations and the type of information we wish to convey influence how we communicate when we are in Cyberspace. Therein lie some of the more obvious differences between online and face-to-face interactions.
Linguists show that we use language as it relates to our social context, and as it relates to the medium through which the language is being expressed. As often seen with the advent of new technologies, new words and symbols are introduced into the "global vocabulary." There are few places where these communication devices are more evident than in Internet communications.
During oral communications, participants have the advantage of such cues as voice tone and pitch. In face-to-face communications, participants have non-verbal cues such as body language, facial expression, posture and movement. Since both audio and visual cues are generally missing from the Internet, communicators must express inner states more creatively through other sensory methods. It is through this method that users are consciously or unconsciously amplifying messages to compensate for the non-existence of physiological cues (Biocca, 1997).
In efforts to emulate face-to-face conversations, online communication often involves the use of special icons and abbreviations. A good example is the use of so-called emoticons. Emoticon is itself a new word that describes a group of text symbols used to represent human facial expressions that would normally be seen or expressed physically during a conversation. Simple text input such as ":-)" symbolizes a smile while ":-(" represents sadness or disappointment, and ":-0" indicates surprise. The list of commonly used emoticons is already quite extensive. Experienced net users and "chatters" consistently use them to enhance the context and quality of their online conversations.
While communication with text has some definite handicaps over verbal language, it also allows a freedom and courage some people have difficulty finding in verbal communications. Users can be selective in or exaggerate their representation, or they can disguise undesirable traits, remain anonymous or use false names. Anonymity can loosen-up even the most reserved user by allowing unpleasant needs or emotions to be expressed or by allowing personal revelations that would go untold in face-to-face situations (Suler, 1998). Additionally, all users have, in theory, reached this space on equal ground. Race, gender, status and wealth are shed, and users no longer carry the identification of any preexisting label. Our communication skills are about the only reputations we bring with us into Cyberspace.
This apparent "freedom through anonymity" might be a primary motivator for many people. It can easily translate into a personal sense of power and control during an online encounter while still maintaining as much privacy as we desire. We can "be ourselves" from the safety and security of our own personal space, and if weíre uncomfortable with who we are, we can alter our persona to reflect who we want to be. These subtle but powerful gratifications will now be explored in greater detail.