Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Book - Cyberpl@y

Danet B. Cyberpl@y: Communicating Online. Berg Publishers; 2001:436.

Although a large chunk of this book is not relevant to the areas I'm looking at, it does have some nice descriptions and summaries of the ways that online communication differs from offline, and the ways that people have adapted their communication online to try and overcome some of these limitations.

 In the introduction she describes a continuum in online communication from 'speech-like' to 'writing like' (pg 16). While asynchronous communication like email is more like writing - allowing time to edit etc. - synchronous chat has more of the linguistic features of oral conversation - speed is of the essence, no editing.

Pages 17-19 provide 9 ways that users have adapted to digital writing:

  1. Multiple punctuation e.g. "Type back soon!!!!!!"
  2. Eccentric spelling e.g. "Type back sooooooooooooooooon."
  3. Capital letters e.g. "I'M REALLY ANGRY AT YOU!" 
  4. Asterisks for emphasis. 
  5. Written out laughter
  6. Descriptions of actions 
  7. Smileys
  8. Abbreviations
  9. All lower case
The last two are particularly aimed at speed, and the all lower case is interesting. It is not acceptable online to use all upper case, because it comes across as shouting. All lower case is more acceptable. Some of these conventions have been used in comics and graffiti - e.g. the all caps for shouting. 

Obviously one of the big differences between this an face-to-face communication is that the writer chooses specifically what they want to represent in the text, while the non-verbal clues in face-to-face communication tend to be involuntary to a degree. 

pg 11-12 online communication is "both doubly attenuated and doubly enhanced". Attenuated by the absence of non-verbal clues compared to speech, and by the 'loss of text as object' compared to writing. But enhanced by the ability to easily record/reexamine what you said (as compared to speech), and the increased sense of the conversational partner (interlocutor!) enhances it compared to writing. This is used to demonstrate that this truly is a different medium to both speech and writing, and therefore worthy of study!

Jumping on to the study of personal emails, pg 64 outlines some of the ethical issues of studying the emails which are intended to be private even if the content is not particularly personal. Danet worked around this by using anonymised versions of emails to her, and attempting to get permission where possible. I really need to read around the ethics of this, because looking at chat could be a mine-field. 

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