Sunday, January 23, 2011

CMC and Inhibition

            CMC (Computer Mediated Discussion) is a phenomenon that is a reflection of its users. In many ways it has made the world seem like a smaller place. It has allowed for people to meet each other that would have never in a million years done so. In turn this has led to some very special moments for many of us. Online forums, clubs, blogs, and websites have created both small and enormous communities that have become the focus of deep commitment for people all around the world (Thurlow, p. 59.)
These groups both construct and deconstruct communities. They have drawn some people away from their family and friends while at the same time delivering hope and happiness to others. Reduced Social Cues (RSC) has made it possible for millions of people to open up online, be more forthright, or even give a shy guy or gal the perceived confidence they need to say something they have always wanted to but been too inhibited or scared to say. Studies have shown that shyness is reduced in CMC while in face-to-face communication it is not (Holdich, 2010, Online.)
While the reduction of inhibition can lead to people being more confident, tougher, or even out of line with what most would consider acceptable social behavior, it would unfair to blame CMC solely for a person’s behavior. Ultimately it is up to a person to decide how they want to behave in any environment, be it online or otherwise.
Personally, I am always amazed at how much tougher some individuals are that play online games. For example, when I was from about 10 until about 15 one of my favorite things to do was pump quarters into fighting games in video arcades and play against others. All kinds of people played. It was truly it’s own little community of gamers. Some guys were a little older than me, the big kids with cigarettes, and some were in their 30s and 40s. Gender, race, and background meant nothing. We were brought together because of the games we played. You put your quarter on the screen and waited for your turn to challenge the winner of the last match, winner stayed – loser paid. Nowadays people play online and in some games use headsets or messaging systems to communicate if they so choose. I cannot begin to tell you the deplorable things that come out of people’s mouths, everything from your mammas this to bullying and even threats. In my head I have a hunch that these same tough guys would never even bat an eye with some of the guys, and girls, that I played against in arcades, they wouldn’t make it out alive. But because they are online spread out all over the country or around the world they are willing to say things they would never dare say in person.
I feel that this notion lends itself to the way people can construct or create their own image of the way they either do or want to be perceived online. People in turn will have social identity and a personal one. They are not mutually exclusive of one another (Thurlow, p. 67.)
With that said I feel there is something very evolutionary about CMC. It works in tandem with people. The people need or desire the technology and if it is useful or a necessity then the people can and often conform or adjust to the technology that makes CMC possible. Thus I see CMC in very polarizing views. On one hand I dislike the way that it, in my eyes, seems to slowly erode experiences that I have always found innately human and replaces them with ones that are ambiguous and sometimes downright cold. It’s like getting all of the good and none of the irritable nuisances that come with any kind of relationship. Most of us get annoyed with each other from time to time and need a break. Still, most of us make time for our friends, family, and other special people in our lives. The tools of CMC are making it easier for us to avoid having to make this time. They allow for us to send a simple text instead of making a phone call. We can now add a post on their Facebook page instead of having to make that call or have that conversation. People can even break up via text, chat, or through some kind of social media.
            However, on the other hand, the community that has been afforded to so many that would otherwise be alone in their interests, research, or need of help cannot be ignored. These communities and relationships that so many, including myself, have found are invaluable to the participant. They have brought help to so many that otherwise would not have gotten it be it in the form of a chat group for addiction, a person’s Youtube video telling them something inspiring, or even a person’s blog or Tumblr page that posts things that make them feel less isolated. It’s the old idea of simply knowing that there are other people out there like you.
So in the end even if there is so much that I don’t like I feel that it is a people problem and not a CMC problem. After all not everyone participating in any of these scenarios is 12-year old kid that has always had this technology at their fingertips and knows no different. Many of them are people that fully understand how a phone call, a handwritten letter, or a face-to-face conversation can mean the world to someone. The dynamics of the evolutionary process is amazing and definitions are simply too subjective. Thurlow and his fellow academics put it best, “…what constitutes appropriate behavior is inevitably determined by the situation and by people’s social standards. The question is always, whose social standards (Thurlow, p. 61?)
Griffin, E. (2009). A First Look at Communication Theory (7th Edition). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Holdich, Emily and S. Omar. (2010). Enhancing human interaction with computer-mediated communication. Retrieved from
Thurlow, C., Lengel, L., and Tomic, A (2009). Computer Mediated Communication.  London: Sage Publications Limited.

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