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Яндекс цитирования
 

SOCIAL COMMUNICATION ON THE INTERNET: OVERVIEW OF THEORY

СОЦИАЛЬНАЯ КОММУНИКАЦИЯ И ИНТЕРНЕТ: ТЕОРЕТИЧЕСКИЙ ОБЗОР

Bakulev G.P.
(Moscow, Russia)

Published: Социальная коммуникация в современном мире. Modern Social Communication / Сборник материалов российско-американской научной школы-семинара, 14-18 июня, 2004. - М.: ООО "Принт-Медиа", 2004. - 58 с. - С. 17-22.

    Россия медленно, но верно входит в эпоху использования Интернета. Количество пользователей увеличивается, но не настолько, чтобы можно было сравнивать с Западом. Хотя государственная программа компьютеризации образования дает основания для оптимизма, национальная школа коммуникативных исследований находится на начальном этапе развития. Компьютерно - опосредованная коммуникация предоставляет российским ученым шанс стать частью международного научного сообщества. Много споров ведется о воздействии Интернета на общество, социальное взаимодействие, коммуникацию. Чтобы рассмотреть возможности решения этих проблем в будущем, мы анализируем соответствующие теории применения компьютера в социальной коммуникации.
    Prof. Bakulev G.P. has been writing on the problems of communication, particularly in the context of new media since the 1980s. He is an author of some books on cable and satellite television and theory of mass communication.

Russia slowly but steadily is entering the Internet Age. The ever-increasing number of people is on line. But the figures of those owning a computer and connected to the WWW do not impress compared to the data about computer population in the West. Although the state program of education computerization gives grounds to face the future with certain optimism. Actually, the national school of communication studies is on the early stage of development, lagging far behind not only from the traditional centers of communication research, Europe and North America, but also from newly-established ones. Computer-mediated communication, particularly the Internet, provides Russian researchers with a lucky chance to join the international academic community as equals. The relationship of the Internet and social communication is one of the most exciting problems to be investigated. Since here, in Russia, communication technologies have been introduced rather selectively (e.g. in the past radio and television as means of mass information and propaganda were given preference in comparison with telephone as a means of interpersonal communication), the effects of the Internet on traditional patterns of social communication may be profound. A short review of relevant theory on computer uses for social communication might be helpful.

There has been much discussion about the impact of the Internet on society, social interaction, and communication. For the most part it has been suggested that the impact of the Internet on society will be greater than television did, as the Internet affects many more areas of a person's life - personal, family, school, and work domains. Also it has been claimed that the Internet is a communication technology that has changed the nature of people's interrelations with one another.

The first studies of computer-mediated communication (CMC) for social purposes argued that CMC, with its lack of visual and other nonverbal cues (like eye contact, facial expressions, posture, dress, social status indicators, and vocal cues, etc, which make up necessary context) is extremely low in social presence in comparison to face-to-face communication. The main disadvantage of the social presence perspective lies in its attempt to determine the differential properties of various communication media, in the degree of social cues inherent in the technology.

Media richness theory differentiates between lean and rich media by the amount of information within each medium. This approach suggests that because CMC is a lean channel, it is useful for simple or unequivocal messages, and communication on the computer is impersonal and cold. It is more efficient "because shadow functions and coordinated interaction efforts are unnecessary … to understand clearly more equivocal information, information that is ambiguous, emphatic, or emotional, however, a richer medium should be used".

At the same time it has been noted that as people experiment with the new medium for social purposes, communication styles become more friendly, dominant, and relaxed. CMC appears to facilitate social interaction. People who communicate on the Internet restore some of social cues and thus make the medium richer than its technological parameters would lead us to expect. Despite the claim that computer communication has fewer social cues than face-to-face interaction, that true emotional expression is not possible in CMC, computer networks used for social purposes became more active than non-social networks. In contrast to what would be expected from social presence and information richness theories, even when the intent was work-related, people inevitably sought to achieve social goals.

Uses and gratifications theory has provided a framework for examining the satisfaction of needs and interests through different forms of communications media. If two media serve similar needs then they can act as functional alternatives. However, if they are designed to serve different needs then they are specialized. One type of medium may be preferred to another if it is better at fulfilling certain needs such as entertainment or socializing. Uses and gratifications theory has been employed in studies of different forms of social communications because of the goal-directed nature of communications behavior. The motives at play, such as relaxation or the acquisition of information, can be quite different depending on the types of communications media used, such as TV or the Internet.

Two forms of media may be so different that they alter social uses and social communication. At least in terms of romantic relationships, it has been suggested interactions on the Internet are different from face-to-face interactions. The anonymity afforded by the Internet requires relationships to proceed quickly to intimacy because of the limitations of other aspects of social contact. In some studies, individuals have been found to communicate less frequently and closely with Internet partners than with non-Internet partners. The Internet was also rated as less useful than face-to-face communication for maintaining social relationships.

Social network theory proposes that social behavior and communication are affected by the patterns of ties among people. It suggests that the more people are socially connected, the more intensely they are likely to communicate using various media available to them. Like previous advances in communication technology, the Internet continues the process of connecting people participating in social networks and geographically dispersed people and organizations bound by shared interests. Social network theory suggests that Internet social communication supplements and is an extension of traditional social behaviors. In line with the social network perspective, it has been found that the more individuals in organizations are connected, communicate face-to-face, and the more intimate their relationships, the more frequently and intimately they use e-mail and a variety of media to communicate. In other words, the Internet supplements traditional social behavior, without necessarily increasing or decreasing it. This is true not only for adults but for teenagers as well .

These perspectives also fit well with social influence theory that describes the effects of various types of social organizations on attitudes and behaviors. Research in this area has found that specific interactions in social networks have more influence on specific attitudes and behaviors than more general social actors like group membership. Therefore, interaction within traditional social networks might be carried over to Internet social communication. In line with social network theory, a positive association between traditional social behavior and Internet social communication may be expected. The more a person interacts traditionally and the more intimate his or her relationships, the more that person would use the Internet to maintain communication with others and the more intimate would be their online communication.

It is worth noting that conceptualizing Internet communities as networks might be a very useful approach. Old concepts of senders and receivers are inappropriate to the study of the Internet. Studying the network of users of any given Internet service can incorporate the concept of interactivity and the interchangeability of message producers and receivers.

Social motives and attributes have also been linked to online communication. Some studies have found that those with low or unsatisfactory traditional social contacts use the Internet more frequently than others. Unfortunately, those findings were limited in generalizability. The most common reasons to use the Internet were cited as social isolation, dissatisfaction with face-to-face communication, loneliness, social anxiety, etc. It is even noted that the focus of CMC research on the socially isolated and other disadvantaged members of society has led to headlines about the sad and lonely world of cyberspace. Research however, has found certain benefits of the Internet: it can be used to test social skills, overcome shyness in face-to-face interactions, and form personal relationships. It has also been found that people who formed friendships over the Internet had higher levels of extroversion, sociability, and willingness to take risks.

To conclude it would be appropriate to cite the findings of the research in a completely wired campus which has revealed that in line with social network theory the more individuals communicate face-to-face and the more intimate their relationships, the more they use a variety of media, including the Internet, to communicate. Furthermore, the strong associations that has been found between traditional and Internet social behaviors also suggests that the Internet does not lead to decreases in traditional social interactions. Social motives were significantly associated with the frequency of Internet social communication. As sociability increased, so did the frequency of the individuals' social contacts over the Internet. The medium of the Internet is employed for the expression of the desire to be with people. These sociable people might also be using the Internet to a greater degree because of recent computers' improved speed and emotional expression options. The main conclusion is that now Internet use seems to resemble more the telephone than the television, and advances in Internet communication technology may have reached a point where the gap between it and traditional social communication is closing.

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    About the author:

    Bakulev G.P.
    Prof., Russian State Social University,
    Moscow, Russia
    Бакулев Г. П.
    д.фил.н., проф.,
    Рoccийский государственный социальный университет,
    Москва, Россия
    E-mail: Bakulev@flexuser.ru

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