Social Psychological Aspects of Computer-Mediated Communication (Kiesler, Siegel & McGuire)

In “Social Psychological Aspects of Computer-Mediated Communication”, Kiesler, Siegel & McGuire explain why social psychological research may contribute to the understanding of electronic communication and technological change in the world more broadly. Published in 1984, the authors considered the social psychological impact to describe issues raised by electronic communication and hypothesize its future outcomes. 

Kiesler, Siegel, & McGuire argue that computer-mediated communication (CMC) are increasing at an expanding rate and rapidly changing our personal lives and the workplace. In the abstract, they say that computer-mediated communication was once confined to technical users and was considered somewhat arcane, but this no longer is the case. Computer-mediated communication is now a key component of the emerging technology of computer networks in which people can exchange, store, edit, broadcast, and copy any written document (Kiesler, Siegel & McGuire 1123).  They mention how government institutions like the U.S. federal judiciary courts and the Department of Defense were beginning to use email over paper mail and computer networks over traditional networks to communicate across long distances. In addition to the government, they note that local-area networks that link up computers within a region, city, or organization are increasingly being used such as Nestar System’s Clusterbus and Xerox’s Ethernet. They state that the reason for this is “stimulating this growth are the decreasing costs and the advantages of networks over stand-alone systems, such as sharing high-speed printers and access to a common interface for otherwise incompatible equipment” (Kiesler, Siegel & McGuire 1123). The authors begin the bulk of their paper by citing some existing research on computer-mediated communication and how it addresses the technical capabilities of the electronic technologies.They note how 1981 study conducted by Kraemer shows evidence that instantaneous information exchange provided by electronic mail, for example, might allow people to work without regard for their geographic dispersion, their schedules, time zones, access to secretaries, and energy costs (Kiesler, Siegel & McGuire 1124). Two 1977 studies conducted by Pye and Williams shows that in real life, technological functions do not exist in isolation and each technical component may be part of a larger context or may trigger certain social psychological processes. Therefore, a broadly accessible communication network might not only increase total communication rates but also stimulate communication up and down the organization, thus, potentially increasing the centralization of control. Next, they consider the possible social psychological impact, and we discuss some hypotheses and some possible implications for the outcomes of communication. Potential social psychological impacts they studied were time and information processing pressures, absence of regulating feedback, dramaturgical absences, few status and position cues, social anonymity, and computer etiquette (Kiesler, Siegel, & McGuire 1125-1126). Some outcomes were in technical problem solving, then, computer-mediated groups might be disorganized, democratic, unrestrained, and perhaps more creative than groups communicating more traditionally. Also, in computer-linked groups whose members are discontented and in conflict with one another, impersonal behavior might tend to polarize members. In additition to this, they emphasize that electronic communication differs from any other communication in time and speed for feedback; furthermore, listing this anecdote: “For example, in one firm where someone posted a new product idea on the computer network, the proposition was sent in one minute to 300 colleagues in branches across the country, and, within two days, sufficient replies were received to launch a new long-distance joint project” (Kiesler, Siegel, & McGuire 1127). Lastly, they describe their own experiments on social psychological aspects of computer-mediated communication through studies of participation, choice, and interaction in CMC groups. Such measurables studied are communication efficiency and participation, group choice, and interpersonal behavior. Both of which offer implications for future research and how CMC will continue to develop as a social process (Kiesler, Siegel & McGuire 1128-1131). 

The authors make valid points throughout the paper and some of the implications that follow have actually been verified in modern times considering this was published three decades ago. It was important to note that CMC is now a key component of the emerging technology of computer networks in which people can exchange, store, edit, broadcast, and copy any written document (Kiesler, Siegel & McGuire 1123). This apt prediction is clearly true today, as evidence through the vitality of government, public, and private institutions to have strong computer networks. Much of all communication between presidents, board members, supervisors, and employees occurs on computer networks, This has effectively changed the manner and speed in which we are able to transmit deadlines, messages, and information to each other. To add to this, they note how a 1981 study conducted by Kraemer showed evidence that information exchange provided by electronic mail would allow people to work without regard for their geographical location, which is true. Now, you can have members of your company in Tokyo, Perth, and Philadelphia at the same time, all while communicating seamlessly.(Kiesler, Siegel & McGuire 1124) With the advent of highly developed computer networks, college students can study abroad and travel to the other end of the world while still taking lehigh classes online or communicating to professors through forums and emails, so the capabilities of advance education have increased. If these predictions were so accurate 30 years ago, how valid do we believe some of the novel predictions about artificial intelligence and 5G networks will be over the same period of time? Were communication psychologists conducting studies on the future of A.I. 30 years ago? If so, how accurate are they in comparison to CMC studies?


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