Sunday, 13 March 2016

Eternally Connected


As the number of internet users continues on its current trajectory of growth, we find ourselves in a unique position in this globalized, interconnected digital media industry. In 2015, there are 3.2 billion internet users in the world, which is a rapid growth from 400 million users in year 2000 (International Telecommunication Union, 2015). Thanks to our predecessors, a major portion of our society stays connected to the internet to keep in touch with one another without taking into account differences in time and space. Digital content is constantly being redefined by various institutions no matter how much we try to deny it. By now, we should all realize that most of our engagement in this world of strangers is ubiquitously through one single platform – the social media. With a click on the button, trending topics shift within a matter of minutes, and it becomes a drug to constantly find out what other people are doing. What’s she eating for lunch? What did she wear today? Where did he go for his honeymoon? Which girl is his new girlfriend? These may just be some of the thoughts drifting in our minds as our finger mindlessly scroll up, up, up, which brings us to our topic today; computer-mediated communication (CMC).

Influence of media on our daily lives. Retrieved from:
What is CMC?

Many people feel shy and awkward to have face-to-face conversations with strangers or friends whom you’re not really close with, and if possible you’d prefer to converse with them through WhatsApp or Facebook messenger as you feel more comfortable with it. This is one of the example on how we are engaged in CMC --to interact with each other via tools, gadgets, applications, software and other mediums. CMC refers to any form of communication between two or more individual people who interact and influence each other via separate computers through the Internet or a network connection by using social software (Irala & Torres, 2008). There are basically two types of CMC which are asynchronous communication (delayed time) and synchronous communication (real-time).

Asynchronous communication is independent of real-time whereby what you’re watching, listening or reading through your phone screen or laptop screen is not happening parallel to real time. For example, composing an email to apply for job is a form of asynchronous communication. Why is it so? Firstly, you’re taking your time to compose that email and read through it over and over again to make sure you do not make errors or mistakes in your email and you only send it after you are confident with your email. Meanwhile, the recipient would not receive your mail while you’re composing it until you decided to send it. Secondly, your recipient might not response to your email immediately. There’s a time lapse between the interactions.  

Synchronous communication, on the other hand, happens concurrently - individuals are having real time interaction. For example, watching live football match through online streaming. Even though the event might be happening in Brazil, you, as a football fan from other part of the world who are watching the live match in front of your laptop is considered as a form of synchronous communication because you’re actually watching the same event at the same time with those people in Brazil! Time and space are compressed to become parallel.

Within these forms of communication, there are also underlying theories that could further explain these. 

Social Presence Theory was originally defined as “the degree of salience of the other person in the interaction and the consequent salience of the interpersonal relationships.” by Short, Williams and Christie (1976)This theory suggests that CMC have a different capacity in delivering non-verbal communication. Taking the email composing activity as an example, the recipient would never know your emotion while you’re composing that email because he or she could not read your non-verbal message through your email! In this sense, there would be less socio-emotional content. How different this is as compared to face-to-face interaction. There is no need to worry for slip of the tongue, because there is always space to fix your mistakes before hitting that "Send" button.

However, this is not always the case. As our Information Technology (IT) continues to be developed, information can now be transferred without being distorted, through the Media Richness Theory. One of the example would be the use of Skype as a communicating tool. Nowadays, many employers accept online interview during intake of new employees whereby candidates could be interviewed through Skype instead of walk-in interview, which saves employers and candidates a whole lot of time. In a way, it creates this idea of a borderless world where all of us are interconnected and just a click away.

How does it affect us?

The question that leaves us wondering is not whether CMC is good or bad for us, because let's face it, everybody has had different experiences with CMC, but the bigger question now is how is CMC going to affect us in the future? Stemming from our social media platform, a new word or phenomena is found - FoMo (Fear of Missing Out). It is the feeling of anxiety that something more interesting or exciting is happening elsewhere. While the word is rather new, this feeling is as old as time, but it is lately being reinforced with the increasing accessibility of social media. It is this feeling of FoMo that drives us to constantly document what we are doing in order to "look cool" or gain more likes on social media. It becomes a competition on who is having a better life out there? 

According to a study on Przybylski et al. (2013), they have found that three-quarters of repondents experienced FoMo and those who frequently use social media have a lower life satisfaction. What does this study tell us? Is this constant CMC affecting us on a subconscious basis that we are not even aware of? It is crucial to always remind ourselves that what we see of others online is not a real representation of their life. In fact, it is far from that. It is a pretty package meant to show people only positive aspects of their lives. Nobody is always happy, partying, travelling and eating good food. All the negative aspects that one experiences are kept hidden, away from the eyes of the public for fear of negative connotations of one's self. Therefore, by understanding the feeling of our fear of missing out, and what truly constitutes the truth, it can help us deal with it by finding positive ways to feel happy without a constant fear of what others are doing.

International Telecommunication Union. (2015). ICT Facts & Figures. Geneva: International Telecommunication Union.

Irala, E. A., & Torres, P. L. (2008). The use of the CMC tool AMANDA for the teaching of English. In R. Marriot & P. L. Torres (Eds.). Handbook of research on E-learning methodologies for language acquisition (pp. 291-306). New York: Information Science Reference

Przybylski, A. K., Murayama, K., DeHaan, C. R., & Gladwell, V. (2013). Motivational, emotional and behavioral correlates of fear of missing out. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(4), 1841-1848. 

Short, J. A., Williams, E., & Christie, B. (1976). The social psychology of telecommunications. London:Wiley