Computer Mediated Communication: Impersonal, Interpersonal, and Hyperpersonal Interaction by Joseph B. Walther)

In “Computer Mediated Communication: Impersonal, Interpersonal, and Hyperpersonal Interaction” by Joseph B. Walther, he lays out the fundamental groundwork for CMC discussion. The paper was written in 1996, so he makes a few novel predictions about our interaction today.

Walther argues that media sometimes facillitates communication that surpasses normal interpersonal communication levels, offering a new perspective on hyperpersonal communication. Traditional CMC channels are discussion boards, emails, and chat room, but they have evolved quite a bit over the years. He begins by saying CMC messages are ineffective in cases when interpersonal exchange is needed because the medium provides “scant social infomation” (Walther 4). Basically, this means that users require more information for tasks and satisfactory socialization, depending on the case. Impersonal CMC had the reputation for getting the job done and is the grandfather of communication exchange in the technology industry. Interpersonal CMC is viewed as the gold standard and has long been the reference point for good, solid communication mediums. This approach takes a social information processing perspective based on principles in social cognition and interpersonal relationship development (Walther 10). This model makes a few assumptions about users being driven to develop social relationships, but primarily distinguises CMC from Face-to-Face (FtF) communication by pointing out the differences in the processes do not have to deal with the amount of social information exchanged but with the rate of social information exchange. Hyperpersonal communication extends into the realm we are in today. Initially, Walther states that this is the level where CMC has surpassed the level of affection and emotion parallel to FtF communication. He breaks these down into social interactions and work groups. CMC groups outperformed FtF groups on several dimensions of intimacy, social orientation and interpersonally speaking. He articulates his findings from two main points of view— the receiver, idealized perception, who inflates the perception of their partner, and the sender, optimized self-presentation, who seeks to achieve a particular impression by performance design (Walther 18-19). Overall all obvious social cues are reduced and user have to look for more subtle clues.

Overall, I thought it was a thoroughly researched and well-written paper. I thought it was very interesting that Walther noticed CMC has the ability to supersede interpersonal communication into hyperpersonal. This was a bizarre idea at the time, but his research and predictions have served him well as time continues to pass. Today, our most deep and intimated conversations often occur through hyperpersonal communication via FaceTime, WhatsApp, and Skype. This has produced positive results for long distance relationships and have allowed families to stay in touch across different continents. What would be the next step of CMC? What level is beyond hyperpersonal? Holographic communication? Maybe we will be able to sent direct messages in the form of a hologram to each other 15 or 20 years down the road.

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