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Technical and Social Aspects of Computer-Mediated Communication

Technical and Social Aspects of Computer-Mediated Communication

 Ifedayo Akinwalere

The Latin root of ‘communication’ – ‘communicare’ – means ‘to share’ or ‘to be in relation with.’ Through Indo-European etymological roots, it further relates to the words ‘common,’ ‘commune,’ and ‘community,’ suggesting an act of ‘bringing together’ (Woods, 2016). According to Soola (2000) in Obe (2008), communication is the process by which any person or a group shares and impacts information with/to another person (or group) so that both people (or groups) clearly understand one another.
Computer-mediated communication (CMC) is a general term that includes all forms of communication between people that take place through some computer, electronic, or Internet connection, for example, e-mail, texting, blogging, instant messaging, tweeting conversational components of online games and date-finding sites, or chatting on social network sites such as Facebook or MySpace or on your phone. All of these computer-mediated forms, like their face-to-face counterparts, are used both socially and in the world of business. According to DeVito (2012), some CMC (such as e-mail or blogging) is asynchronous, meaning that it does not take place in real time. For instance, messages sent today might not be read by the receiver for a week and may take another week to respond. Consequently, much of the spontaneity created by face-to-face real-time communication is lost in asynchronous communication. Other forms of CMC (such as tweeting, chatting on social network sites, interactive websites, and instant messaging) are often synchronous—they occur at the same time and are similar to phone communication except that CMC is largely text-based rather than voice-based.
In some ways CMC is a simple alternative to other forms of communication, with some socio-technical features that alter communication dynamics. In other ways CMC offers significant opportunities that enhance communication in personal settings by allowing users to contact a large field of potential communication partners, reducing aspects of human interaction that impede communication effectiveness in conventional interaction. CMC can enhance personal communication by allowing users to enhance messaging in ways that conventional interaction does not as readily afford, facilitating new relationships and relational maintenance (Ewoldsen, 2015).
Technical Considerations of CMC
Since CMC relies heavily on electronic gadgets, purveyor of information must act in accordance with the technical and operational structure of the gadgets in use. Any deviation from the set standard will break communication flow.  The following are some of the CMC avenues;
Text Messaging
Text messaging is one popular CMC tools. It is incorporated with phone and other mobile devices with a view to conveying information via letters and numbers. In an advanced situation, text messages can have as part of its components emoticons, sound and clips. When this happens, this type of message is called Multimedia Messages (MMS). Depending on the device in use, text messages on mobile phones are written and charged in pages i.e. each page attracts a fee. For unsuspecting individuals whose messages go beyond a page, they are alerted by the sudden switch from text to MMS so that they can decide if to continue or not.
In most cases text messages (on GSM and CDMA platforms) do not depend on internet to get through to the recipients. Once there is credit on the mobile Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) Card, the message will be delivered. However, hitches can occur when the Message Centre Number is altered. Message Center Number is a unique number peculiar to telecommunications service providers for SMS distribution.
In order to reduce the formality that characterizes SMS, phone makers are created an SMS platform that has interactivity and conversational outlook. Traditionally, SMS is designed for conveying information with few words.
The word is an abbreviation of weblog, itself an amalgam of web and log. Thus a blog is a type of Web site where entries are written, or posted, the same way you would update a journal or diary. Blogs often provide commentary or news on a specific topic, but the largest group consists of personal diaries. The big difference when compared with traditional diaries is that people share their blogs. Blogs and their relatives represent part of a media revolution known as social networking, participatory journalism, or citizen reporting (Quinn and Lamble, 2008).
 Blogs represent some of the more interesting developments for the publishing world since the arrival of the web more than a decade ago. The “blogosphere” consists of all the content built by blogs, moblogs, video blogs, vodcasts, and podcasts.  Blogs have boomed because they are easy to set up and maintain. A “blogger” creates an account via the Web with a free or paid blogging service and can be updated as often as you like if you have internet access.
A blog, according to Quinn and Lamble (2008), is a personal online journal. With blogs, the most recent item is displayed first. A typical blog combines text, images, and sometimes sound with links to other blogs, Web pages, and other media related to its topic.
Moblog is an amalgam of mobile phone and blog. People produce these blogs using cell phones. They send or post images and text to the Web by sending an e-mail (sometimes called a multimedia message, or MMS) from their phone to a Web site set up like a blog.
Video blogs, known as v-logs, are the video versions of moblogs. The simplest form occurs when people take videos with their mobile phones and send them to a blog site, in the same way they post a moblog image. A more sophisticated process involves editing video from portable video cameras, assembling it into packages and short programs, and posting that to a site.
A podcast is a do-it-yourself form of broadcasting that became popular about the middle of 2004. You could argue that it is the verbal version of a blog. Guardian journalist Ben Hammersley coined the term, basing it on Apple's portable digital music player, the iPod. Listeners download podcast files onto their music players.
Podcasting represents another example of personal and convenient media, where individuals choose what they hear rather than relying on radio station schedules. Listeners can automate the download process, so new items are available on their computers soon after they are published.

Electronic Mail
Electronic mail (‘email’) is a primarily text-based form of communication exchanged between computing devices that incorporates hyperlinks, or file attachments. Originally developed and used by the military, computer scientists, and other specialists, email has grown into one of the most common forms of human communication
The popularity of email has been hailed as contributing to the creation of a “virtual community” Rheingold (2000) in Hassan and Jethani (2015).  It has also been argued that email is a creative medium where self-expression has taken new forms, such as the use of ‘emoticons,’ where emotions may be expressed in text by arranging printable characters into icons, such as :-) to symbolize happiness, and acronyms such as ‘LOL ’ (laugh out loud). In the workplace, email communication can link an organization with its customers and increase productivity to allow workers in multiple locations to communicate, share documents, and work collaboratively without the need for face-to-face or telephone communication.
From a negative perspective, an estimated 88 percent of total daily email volume occurs in the form of junk email or ‘spam.’ Another related concern is identity theft through practices such as ‘phishing’, where individuals posing as representatives of institutions such as banks make fraudulent attempts to gain passwords and credit card details.

Social Media
In its core meaning, ‘social media’ is closely allied to the terms ‘Web 2.0’ and ‘social web.’ However, while these describe the novelty of the Internet’s second generation, the term ‘social media’ covers the specific types of participatory digital media.
Two key characteristics are ‘user-generated content’ (UGC) and ‘produsage’ (Bruns 2013) in Haferkamp (2015). Both terms connote the idea that people are actively participating in social media; they are generating and sharing content themselves. UGC emphasizes that it is not only professionals who are creating content, but mainly ordinary people, who need only access to the Internet. All types of media – including social media – have a specific audience, but only social media allow sharing, copying, and generating content without having specific professional qualifications or expertise. Thus, social media cannot perpetuate the traditional roles of recipients on the one hand and producers on the other.
Another feature of social media is interpersonal communication. Obviously social networks facilitate communication among users, by offering comment functions, email accounts, or chat. As research has already shown for social networks, communication partners frequently know their counterparts from everyday life, but this is not always the case.
Particularly when dealing with wikis, people with different backgrounds collaborate on a subject of common interest, although they have never met in person. Linking also comes into play in various contexts. It means adding someone to one’s ‘friends’ list; linking hypertexts in wikis; placing web links in personal weblogs; or simply having a URL for connecting content to external networks. Also, tagging can be understood as linking. The opportunity to connect content has significantly changed people’s use of media, as extensive searching is abandoned in favor of spontaneous and interest-based use.

 Technical Aspects of CMC
The issue of privacy in CMC is highly relative depending on the channel of communication. Telecommunication and internet service providers have access to communicational exchanges (voice calls, messages, chats, etc.) of people that use their platforms. For instance, Sahara Reporters was able to get a telephone conversation between Senator Dino Melaye and a high court judge, Akon Ikpeme. The former had been accused of bribing the later so as to secure a favourable judgment.
 Where social media is concerned, managers of the applications have an unrestricted access to personal accounts of subscribers. Recently, there was a convergence of Facebook Messenger and SMS account of subscribers. With this development, Facebook has direct access to users’ SMS platform. This however is an infringement of the privacy of subscribers. This is why there is an option where this service can be activated or deactivated.
Another level of privacy, most especially on social media is targeted at fellow users and/or followers. Here, the account owner decides who sees, reacts or respond to his/her posts. In a serious situation, the account owner can permanently block another person from accessing his/her page.
The place in security in CMC cannot be undermined. Here, security is conceptualized as measures put in place to avoid infiltration into a personal device and/or account. This is why people involved in CMC should be wary malwares, spywares, hackers and viruses. Where telephonic communication is concerned, it is advisable for user to manage extraneous access to their devices by putting access code. More so, other CMC tools like electronic mail and social media also have access code that must be provided before access can be gained. It is no doubt that hackers can be on rampage, however it should be known that there is no smoke without fire. Consequently, account holders are expected to keep their access code secret, while also avoiding clicking on links from strange websites and individuals. Where group communication is concerned, identity of the participants should be authenticated before the commencement of the conversation.
Gadgets and Compatibility
Computer-mediated communication in recent times is taking a multimedia approach. This is why gadgets are being designed to suit various needs. For instance, usage purpose, social class, industry/profession, physical condition, physical environment, among others are some of the factors that determine gadget selection. In the case of mobile gadgets and computers, people can buy one based on the available funds. In addition to this, the profession which an individual belongs can also determine the gadget to use. For instance, while a communication lecturer uses a windows operating system, a security expert will prefer Linux. More so, someone that is physically impaired will use a digital Braille.

Media Outputs
Computer-mediated communication is usually relayed using text, voice, image and video. Text is the commonest as others are mostly seen as accompanists. It is necessaries for CMC users to have understanding of the various formats of the CMC so as to avoid “noise” and other technical disappointments. It is also important to note that the bigger and sophisticated a gadget is, the more its adaptability to different formats. For instance, a 3gp video will appear blurry or not play at all on big tablets.
Some of the popular formats include;
·         Text: Document (DOC.) Text (TXT.) Rich Text Format (RTF.) Portable Document Format (PDF.)
·         Audio: Music Player 3(MP3), Adaptive Multi-Rate Audio (AMR.) Windows Media Audio (WMA.)
·         Image: Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG), Portable Network Graphic (PNG) Tagged Image Format (TIFF).
·         Video: MP4,  (3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), Audio Video Interleave (AVI) Flash Video (FLV)

Social Aspects of CMC
The advent of computer technology into communication has brought mixed developments – positively and negatively.  According to Kiesler, Siegel, and McGuire (1984), computer technologies are improving so swiftly these days that few of us comprehend even a small part of the change. Computers are transforming work and, in some cases, lives. Whether eager for this or resistant, many people believe the organizational, social, and personal effects of computers will be deeply felt.
Establishing and Maintaining Relationships
One of the social importance of CMC is that it helps in building new relationships, while also improving on existing ones. The type of relationship could either be good or bad. These relationships spread across educational, business, romance, religion and other frontiers. Interestingly, CMC tools as social media and blogs help in widening the scope of relationships across international space. The limitations hitherto domiciled in face-to-face communication have been effaced to a reasonable extent.

Absence of “True” Regulating Feedback
Does communication through text alone reduce coordination of communication? In traditional forms of communication, head nods, smiles, eye contact, distance, tone of voice, and other nonverbal behavior give speakers and listeners information they can use to regulate, modify, and control exchanges. Electronic communication may be inefficient for resolving such coordination problems as telling another person you already have knowledge of something he or she is explaining (Kraut, Lewis, & Swezey, 1982) in Kiesler et al (1984).
This limitation as observed by Kraut et al, less challenging where video based communication is concerned. With video chat or call, emotions and gestures as released by the source are easily interpreted by the receiver if the two of them are in the same field of meaning.

Knowledge Check
Computer-Mediated Communication is playing an important role in colleges where examination is concerned. Corporate organizations and government also use Computer Based Test for prospective employees. This helps in saving cost, while also minimizing risks. As laudable as this feat is, many cases of breach have been reported. For instance, the 2017 Joint Admission Matriculation Board (JAMB) examination, which was computer-based was said to have been marred by the unscrupulous synergy between JAMB officials and CBT operators.
Digitization of Biological Activities
Amorous tendencies have been heavily trivialized by CMC. For instance, CMC aided the popularity of concepts as sexting, voice sex, online sex, exchange of nudes among others. There have been cases where couples (both married and unmarried) express love by exchanging nude photographs. Inasmuch as this development is bad, it is trending among young people. For instance, some students of Covenant University were expelled because a nude video they “playfully recorded” found its way to the public space. The affected students must have been affected psychologically as their unclad phones are available for download on the internet.

Social Pressure
Access to computer and other digital devices is still a bane in many developing countries including Nigeria. Even the communication gadgets have been proliferated by companies from China, there are still numerous individuals that cannot afford it.
Generally speaking, it is presumed that social class should affect choice of digital devices, however, it appear some people despite occupying middle or lower space use gadgets that are far above their status. This is why there incessant cases of robbery, bloody rituals, prostitution, internet fraud, among other social vices.
Exposure to foreign cultural practices, most especially from the West, and frequent access to luxury life of celebrities can instigate forceful and most of the time a negative re-stratification.
The place of computer-mediated communication cannot be undermined in contemporary societies as it is helping in broadening relationships, while also introducing a high degree of flexibility into communication process. This is why it is important for every user of digital gadgets for communication to understand the rudiments of the gadgets, platforms and service providers they are operating with. It is also necessary to understand that the ease these tools have introduced to communication process also have some impediments, most especially when not properly utilized. Conclusively, there is also the need to identify and/or the roles of all the aforementioned stakeholders in the CMC process i.e. users, regulators, service providers and application developers. this will help in resolving privacy related issues.

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·     Haferkamp, N. (2015). Social media.  In W. Donsbach (Ed.), The encyclopedia of communication  (pp. 538-539).  New York: John Wiley and Sons
·         Hassan, R. and Jethani, S.  (2015). Electronic mail.  In W. Donsbach (Ed.), The encyclopedia of communication  (pp. 172-173).  New York: John Wiley and Sons
·         Kiesler, S.  Siegel, J. and McGuire, T. (1984). Social psychological aspects of
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Technical and Social Aspects of Computer-Mediated Communication Technical and Social Aspects of Computer-Mediated Communication Reviewed by IFEDAYO AKINWALERE on 7:26:00 am Rating: 5