THEORY AND PRACTICE OF COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION IN RUSSIA: STATE OF ARTS AND FUTURE
Published: Collected research articles, Bulletin of Russian Communication Association "THEORY OF COMMUNICATION AND APPLIED COMMUNICATION", Issue 1 / Edited by I.N. Rozina, Rostov-on-Don: Institute of Management, Business and Law Publishing, 2002. - 168 p. P. 99-108
Computer-mediated communication gradually becomes an object of steady research by specialists from different domains. In this respect Information and Computer Science, Sociology, Psychology, Education, Philosophy, Management, Communication Science can be named. The better results are obtained in integrative interdisciplinary research, which unite specialists from different subject fields. As an example we can mention joint research projects of psychologists and sociologists (Psychology Department of Moscow State University and Regional NGO "Center of Internet-technology"), artificial intellect specialists and educators forum (East-European Subgroup of Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, IEEE).
The term "computer-mediated communication" (CMC) hasn't yet been standardized in the Russian language. Other variants of the term, which was originally borrowed from the English language are "communication, mediated by computer", "communication in electronic media", "dialogue ("obsheniye"), mediated by computer". This domain is also defined by other narrow terms like "online research", "human-computer interaction" "computer-supported collaborative work", "virtual reality research", and "humanitarian research on Internet". In our opinion these terms are narrower. They are focused on some definite object of research, thus limiting, for example, the chosen subdomain of research to on-line communication and ignoring off-line communication or being aimed at joint and group work they sometimes exclude individual approach.
We also differentiate this type of communication and human-computer interaction, which as A. Holl mentioned, belongs to low-context culture [Griffin, 2000, 391], as it has beforehand defined logical basis of communication and more strict limitations of symbols, thesaurus, dialogue, acts, adverse connection. For example, the computer understands a message or a statement only in case of absolutely exact carrying out of corresponding permissible command, instruction, and agreement. The program can't understand a command, which has an unnecessary space, wrong syntax, the command which was executed with a time delay or which is in a wrong line. The message in case of human-computer interaction should be synonymous and exact. Thus, in our opinion, the term computer-mediated communication that we use characterizes communication as our basic object more precisely. It is also formally close to the original English term and includes the words, which are of great importance for the term understanding, which are computer, media, communication.
From the point of view of scientific domain or domains, which research this object, one can give different definitions of the term "computer-mediated communication" or of the terms which are close in sense, picking out the characteristics, which are of greater importance for setting research goals in these domains. So, in technical communication e-comunication is characterized with the help of six instruments, such as text editor, spelling check, programs for joint work support, review and Web-page creation, as well as future abilities of Web-sites [Markel, 1998, 68], for example, interactive. Here we shall follow communication theory and practice, where computer-mediated communication has recently originated as a new subdomain. Thus we define computer-mediated communication as a new subdomain of communication theory and practice, in which one studies the use of e- (computer) messages by people in order to achieve understanding in different media, contexts and cultures. Moreover e-messages research serves for practical purposes of computer and communication effective usage, as well as this type of communication ethics development in different spheres of human activities.
If we speak about practical use of computer-mediated communication, we can view this type of communication as a skill, which should be taught, like text printing on key-board, effective work with computer programs, technologies and Internet resources. As a rule one should be taught basic communicative skills, watching other people, who are more competent in computer technologies and simulating one's own communicative behavior following the watched examples. Modern students acquire communicative skills while they get their education and with the help of their individual practice in work with computer and communication in Internet. As a result of such communication a thematic Internet-community can be spontaneously or purposefully formed. Internet community is a self-organized community of people, who communicate with each other on a definite topic and use Internet technologies as a basic means of communication to organize a group interaction of community members.
The communities of this type can be illustrated by "Project Harmony" discussion forums (http://iatp.projectharmony.ru), discussion international forum "Education technologies and society" of East-European Subgroup of International Forum " Educational technology and society", IFETS East-Euro of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, IEEE) (http://ifets.ieee.org/russian/). Provisional groups are also created like research communities, virtual classes. The communication of such e- communities members represent inter-personal, group (small and large groups) and inter-cultural (cross-cultural) computer-mediated communication, which is mostly researched by the specialists in applied purposes. Nevertheless, in our opinion, the question of the principal differences of computer-mediated and other types of communication is still open. Without true comparative qualitative and quantitative research of traditional and computer-mediated communication the effectiveness and other positive factors of the latter could be considered disputable. It is known that in case of the alternative choice of communication media in the process of decision making there is a certain sequence of preferences, defined by linguist J. Greender and system theory specialist R. Bandler. Later it was made more precise in the research of 90-s by L. Trevino, R. Draft and R. Lengel [ Beebe, 336]). Summing up these researches we can define the following consequence of preferences in communication:
- Personal communication (discussion on one's own)
- Group communication (traditional meetings)
- Telephone (audio communication without personal presence)
- Teleconference, list-serves, discussion groups
- Fax messages
- Traditional personal letters, messages and other types of text communication
In Russia computer-mediated communication is not yet now an object of a detailed scientific research as it is a comparatively new phenomenon and people involved in it are not too many (as we shall show later only 3-9 % of Russia population have Internet access, depending on the region). Among research groups, which work in this domain, we can mention an international group that includes psychologists from Moscow State University who study humanities Internet (Voiskunsky A.E., Arestova O.N., Babanin L.N.), social and document communication (Sokolov A.V., Shvetsova-Vodka G.N.), edication reserach of distance education peculiarities (Polat E.S., Moiseeva M.V., Akhayan A.A., Uvarov A.Yu., Kryukova O.P.), research on communication peculiarities in Internet by St. Petersburg European university, Russian University of People Friendship, communicative reseraches by the Institute of Communication Problems (http://www.geocities.com/ResearchTriangle/Lab/9004/index.html), International Institute of mass communication media research (http://institute.org.ru/), Institute of Program Systems of Russian Academy of Science in Pereslavl-Zalessky (http://uchcom.botik.ru), research of Internet non-commercial segment in the framework of program "Partnership in non-commercial sector" (http://www. trainet.org/communities/research/), "Friends and Partners (http://www. friends-partners.org/friends/ourstory/), terminology research of communication (Russian Research Institute for Classification, Terminology and Information on Standardization and Quality), multilingual terminology database "ROSTERM") and many others.
From well-known theories of communication, which conceptualize the process of communication that we consider we can use several traditional theories as a theoretical basis. For example, Socio-Psychological Tradition (C. Hovland), Cybernetic Tradition (N. Wiener, C. Shannon), Rhetorical Tradition (Aristotle, Demosthenes, Cicero), Semiotic Tradition (I. Richards, C. Ogden, F. Saussure), Socio-Cultural Tradition (E. Sapir, B. Whorf), Critical Tradition (M. Horkheimer, T. Adorno, H. Marcuse), Phenomenological Tradition (C. Rogers) [Griffin, 2000]. In context of computer-mediated communication we are interested in theories in theories, approaches and models, in which communication is viewed as primary process, which coordinated logical practical acts of a human being. The peculiarity of these acts (interactions, transactions) between communicants (addressee, individuals, speaker, auditorium) is that they are carried out in computer media, through computer channel (computer telecommunications). Besides the communication is a reciprocal reflexive process, in which technical means influence the practice of communication, and practice in its turn reconstructs means of communication.
This mutual influence of technical (apparatus and program) means and practice of computer-mediated communication can be traced on net technologies change dynamics by analogy to one-factor idea of technological determinism of MacLuhan [Griffin, 2000, 313]. In accordance with this theory, telegraph, telephone, radio, film projector, phonograph, television, photocopier, answering machine, computer, VCR, CD, holograph, cellular phone, FAX, DVD, modem, Internet are e-technologies which substantially influenced communication. Analogous are key moments which consequently influence e-communication media, such as
e-mail (R. Tomlison; 1972),
Global Network of Internet (USA, England, Norway, 1973).
Then services of text messages exchange:
teleconferences (Usenet, 1979),
forums chats (IRC);
and then more perfect services:
WWW (Т. Berners-Lee, 1989);
service Gopher (1992);
graphic Web-browser (1994),
dynamic HTML and interactive Internet technologies (1999).
Traditionally it is considered that one of computer-mediated communication is a potential opportunity to communicate to anyone, anytime and anywhere, аs well as to communicate individually and in groups depending on use program means (Internet- technologies).
Following this understanding net technologies (local, territorial and global), used for computer-mediated communication, can be conventionally divided in accordance with two physical parameters. They are based on user location (physical and virtual) at the moment of communication act in space and time, which combination allows to single out four types of net technologies:
- One time/one place: local net programs, chats (Internet Relay Chat, IRC).
- One time/different place (synchronous technologies): programs for simultaneous joint work in computer networks, Internet-paging and ICQ, Internet-telephones, computer audio and video-conferencing.
- Different time/one place (interactive technologies) - Web-based forums, discussion lists, guest books, questionnaires-forms.
- Different time/different place (asynchronous technologies): e-mail, mailing lists, newsgroups.
There is one more peculiarity of communication process on the basis of aforementioned net technologies. It is axial (from Greek axis) or retial или (from Greek rete - net) communication [Brudni, 1981]. Axial communication serves for message transfer to a definite user (e-mail, ICQ), retial serves to many possibly interested users or users who have same interests, but are those by chance and are not identifies beforehand (chat, Web-forum, listserves. Retial principle of computer-mediated communication can be also characterized as "self-selected". Those who selected themselves, answered the message and agreed (or rejected, ignored the opportunity) participate in the process of communication.
If we take into consideration the fact, that creation of information Web-sites is done by a human being, thus we can view their study by a user as a communicative process, and not only as a human-computer interaction. In this case the retial principle lies in information interchange through Web-sites, when its creator puts forward a task to bring or transfer) the information to the user. Each user solves his own problem (joint indefinite interest, search for definite information, receiving of basic and additional information, performance of a certain act). If the interest of the site creator and information user are not the same, n this case the communication process will not take place. Problems of this and other types of computer-mediated communication can be studies as tasks of design [Nilsen, 2000], as well as with the help of traditional scientific and research methods and methods of net research.
Net research is a comparatively new type of research in Russia, thus methodology and practice of this new type of communication and sociology research hasn't been settles yet. A more complete picture of positive and negative features of net method of research in comparison to traditional methods. Working out the procedures of specific material choices, means of questionnaires and interviews distribution, solving of ethical problems of user registration data use and others is also important. Nevertheless it is already clear now that net technologies allow getting very quickly representative and true data, if traditional mass questionings and user interviewing of net users are conducted.
The substantial positive effect of this method of net questionings except their short time of preparation and carrying out lies in high readiness of the respondents to sincerity, which has been proved by many researchers. The examples proving it can be net questionings carried out by the author on the basis of questionnaires, placed on lists-serves and Web-sites (peculiarities of distance education, cultural values), anonymous questionings on the effectiveness of teaching students in the Institute of management, business and law. Though it may seem strange from the point of view of the anonymous character of respondent program software, the author didn't receive funny or not serious answers. Probably the reason of the respondents' readiness to answer sincerely is a subjective feeling of being anonymous when working with local net program or questionnaire-form in Internet.
Let's give some result of non-systematic mass-scale research in the sphere of computer-mediated communication, which are of high quality in the Russian-language sector of Internet beginning from 1997. They give the results of the analysis of the Russian Internet structure, the correlation between business and Internet, the most popular information systems, programs, sites. Let's also give some examples of qualitative data and socio-demographic characteristics of the researches that quite truly represent Russian Internet community today.
Thus, questioning of 320 Moscovites at the age of 16-30 in 1997 showed that only 2% of respondents showed their negative attitude to Internet, 11% were scared of computer. Among those who worked in Internet 3% had Internet access at home, 43 % - at work place, 13% - at educational establishments, at their parents' work place or at their friends' [Zemlyanskaya, 1998].
The research of GFK Market Research Company (www.gfk.ru) on interviewing 2080 respondents showed that 3% of Russian citizens use Internet at work places and 1% - at home. 3% of Russian citizens used e-mail in 1998.
Net questionings of 2457 people in 1998 in Internet showed the following demographic age data of net users [Bokarev, 1998]:
84% - men,
10% - younger than 18,
45% - from 18 to 25,
16% - women
38% - from 25 to 40,
7% - older than 40.
As our personal experience shows there is the following distribution of users:
Less than 3 months - 29%,
from 3 months to 1 year - 32%,
from 1 to 2 years - 20%,
more than 2 years - 19%.
The results of 7948 questionnaires study, filled in 1998/1999 at site of "RosBusinessCinsulting" (RBC) server showed the following regional distribution of users (http://www.rbc.ru/ank-res3.html):
Moscow - 45,1%,
Moscow region -2,92%,
St. Petersburg - 12,29%,
The Urals - 7,87%,
Western Siberia - 6,97%,
Volga region - 4,73%,
Central region - 4,33%,
Other Russian regions - less than 3%.
The analogous results were obtained when asking 33201 respondents by "Infoart" pronting House in 1998. (http://www.stars.ru/people.htm). The respondents comprised
85,3% - men,
14,7% - women.
Let us note that for our country with a vast territory with non-equal distribution of the population the data on respondents distribution in accordance with their place of living could be considered substantial, as this factor can influence other differences in communication and the dynamics of changes. For example, the researched data showed the following distribution in accordance with professional background:
Specialists - 49,68%,
Students - 18,62%,
Administration - 15,48%,
Entrepreneurs - 4,26%,
Pensioners - 1, 7%,
Workers - 1,39%.
And the sphere of activities (work/study) gave the following results:
Information technologies - 33,86%,
Business and management - 18,68%,
Science and Education - 12,53%,
Medicine - 5, 25%,
Industry - 3,14%,
Mass Media - 2,24%, Art - 1,46%.
The interest of the respondents in Internet information resources has got the following distribution:
Political and public news - 20,55%,
Business news - 16, 73%,
Weather - 16,33%,
Popular science - 16,00%,
Travelling - 15, 24%,
Art - 13, 98%,
Work search - 12, 40%,
Sports - 12,02%,
E-commerce - 11,16%,
Medicine - 10,56%.
The respondents are distributes in accordance with their education in the following way:
Higher education - 54, 69%,
Incomplete higher - 22,16%
High education -12, 26%.
Three organizations such as Agency of Regional Political Research (ARPR, www.monitoring.ru), "Komkon" (www.comcon-2.com) and regional public organization "Center of Internet-technologies, publishing analytical reports "Russia in Internet" (www.rocit.ru/inform/page1.htm) give representative systematic and large scale research of the dynamics of Russian Internet users community social and demographic changes.
"Komkon" organization studies the consumer market on the basis of the methodology of each quarter questionings in 40 cities of Russia, in which there are not fewer than 250 people and the whole number of the respondents is 8200 people. The questioning is carried out by an accidental choice of the respondents and their later more precise definition and control. In February 1999, for example, the users worked in Internet the following number of hours a week:
44,7% - up to 2hours,
14, 5% - 1-2 hours,
16,8% - -2-4 hours,
8,9% - 4-8 hours,
7,7% - 8-16 hours,
7,4% - more than 16 hours.
ARPR bases on the results of quota questioning of 134 cities and 156 village citizens (the total number is 6110 people). In these researches such varieties of actual Internet auditorium as maximum, regular, week, active, nucleus, narrower and far environment are being defined. Such an approach qualitatively characterizes direct and indirect influence of Internet on Russian citizens (the maximum communicative zone of Internet influence in 1999 was 16,7%), that is on each sixth citizen of Russia. Among this auditorium the users of e-mail make up not more than its half (47% in November 1999), that is about 4% of Russia population. According to their activity e-mail users are differentiated into those who get 1 letter, from 2 to 5 letters, from 6 to 10 letters and more than 10 electronic letters a day. More than two third e-mail users have one letter a day and less. The data on active users and auditorium nucleus are also of great interest. They show that nucleus is not characteristic of megalopolises, it is not limited to capitals and large cities. The majority of active users don't live in Central European part. They live in the Asian part of the country (in the South, in the Central part, then in Siberia, Far East, in the Urals, in the North and in the West). The women are fewer represented here (1:4), in comparison with the auditorium of far and narrow environment (1:1).
Russian Internet users community monitoring as a characteristics of social, demographic, psychological parameters of Internet-community in temporal dynamics has been carried out my the specialists of Moscow State University since [Humanitarian, 2000, 168]. Their cross-disciplinary researches that has been carried out practically from the first years of Russian computer-mediated communication (1990), use personal conversations, interviews, observations, pilot questionings, modified questionnaires and are conducted once a year. They mainly suggest closed (a menu with possible answers) and partially open and scale questions. Net questionings are conducted by e-mail, via teleconferencing and later on Web-site. In the opinion of this group of researchers the respondents represent active Internet users but not the whole users' population of the country. They have noted a leap of the number of users of svhool and student age in 1992, which was later stable for 12-15%.
MSU specialists have researched the comparative popularity of net services since 1995. Let us note that before this time there were not any other services in Russia except e-mail, BBS and teleconferences. E-mail is steadily the most popular means of communication, BBS and teleconferencing users are becoming fewer, list serves, ICQ and chats are becoming more popular.
In spite of large divergence in research results at selected data, if we do not consider them artifacts and not correct measures, but take as original ones, than we can view these differences as not coinciding time parameters and intervals; age parameters of the researched population of users and used methodological means (methods, forms of processing and representation of the results). Thus generalizing the obtained results we can characterize the Internet-community in Russia as dynamically developing social community of a broad age range. Its one third or half is represented by a quite qualified young people at the age not older than 35. Scientific and educational elite makes not a representative part of the Internet-community (about 2%). Besides in Moscow and St. Petersburg the population has got a larger percentage (9 and 7% correspondingly), but not of the most active nucleus of users, living primarily in the Asian part of Russia.
A joint research of intercultural computer-mediated communication difference has been carried out by the author together with foreign colleagues Prof. Joe Downing, Southern Methodist University Prof. Ronald Eckard, Western Kentucky University, USA. The research is based on the study of cultural values, stereotypes, linguistic analysis of text messages, problems of students' communicative competence formation. For example the most popular topics for informal discussion, which followed our projects were (in the sequence of decrease):
Leisure, spare time, hobby
Education, students' life
Holidays, traditions, ceremonies
Family life, relations with relatives
History and current events
Sports, sports teams, competitions,
Politics, elections, court
Popular music, performers, compositions
Russia students estimate higher such cultural values from the list of 40 cultural values (10 of greater preference in the sequence of decrease):
Respect to parents
Firmness and well-balanced character
Sense of justice
Exchange of greetings, kind words, presents
Solidarity, mutual help
Questioning was carried out with the help of traditional and net methods at a certain selected number of 296 students from different cities of Russia. Prof. J.R. Garrott "Cultural Values Survey" [Garrott, 1991] research instruments were used.
As in Russian Internet only a limited number of services is realized and even e-mail technology is not still widely represented with the population of Russia, it is early now to speak about the change of traditional means of communication. We can only say about the origination of computer-mediated communication in Russia as a new form of communication, which evolutions under an active influence of different Internet-communities.
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Text in Word
Irina N. ROZINA
Ph.D., Associated Professor,
Department of Infrormation Technologies,
The Institute of Management, Business and Law,
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