Communication Interactivity
by
Michael A. Xenos
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 February 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0060

Introduction

Most everyday users understand interactivity as the extent to which a communication medium enables responses (typically immediate) to user input. This can come in many forms, such as in an interpersonal exchange (for example, chat), or a change in digital content (as when one comments on a blog post and thus changes the content of the website). Indeed, as the section Conceptualization illustrates, scholars continue to argue over the precise definition, forms, and functions of interactivity. For many, the potentials for interactivity represent the most significant aspects of the revolutionary changes that technological development has brought to human communication in recent years. Whereas other aspects of digital media merely alter the cost structure of familiar communication forms (for example, making one-to-one and one-to-many forms of communication faster and cheaper), as Cover 2006 points out interactivity fundamentally challenges traditional understandings of the very nature of mediated communication. Due to the relatively short history of interactive communication forms, and the nature of interactivity (as a subdimension of the much larger topic of digital media in general), significant works that address this topic directly most often appear as papers and journal articles. Nevertheless, this body of literature is vibrant, containing various strands. Some deal with cross-cutting issues that relate to a variety of conceptual and theoretical questions dealing with interactivity. These are covered in sections devoted to Conceptualization, Theory, Method, Cognitive and Affective Engagement, and Youth. In addition to these, one may also find research on interactivity in specific contexts. Research on these more specific topics is discussed in sections on Advertising, Marketing, and Corporate Communication, Journalism, News Consumption, and Politics.

Conceptualization

In everyday contexts, most people find it easy to identify interactivity in media and most share an intuitive understanding of what it is. Within the scholarly literature, however, the conceptualization of interactivity has been a relatively contested undertaking. In addition to the relatively straightforward understanding of interactivity as a function of certain kinds of technical features, some scholarly works, such as Bucy 2004, have argued for conceiving interactivity as a perceptual or psychological concept. Alternatively, Rafaeli 1988 has defined interactivity as a quality of contexts or processes. Kiousis 2002 provides an excellent review of these perspectives, ultimately offering an inclusive perspective. In addition, a variety of scholars have added to these discussions through empirical analyses aimed at identifying what users associate with interactivity, as seen in Quiring 2009, or otherwise identifying distinct dimensions of the concept, as seen in Johnson, et al. 2006 and Yun 2007.

  • Bucy, Erik P. 2004. Interactivity in society: Locating an elusive concept. The Information Society 20:373–383.

    DOI: 10.1080/01972240490508063E-mail Citation »

    Introduces a lively discussion within the issue in which it appears. Bucy provides a critique of previous work on interactivity and articulates a strong argument for approaching the concept as a perceived quality of media rather than an attribute of technologies. He also cautions against assumptions that interactivity is uniformly positive.

  • Johnson, Grace J., Gordon C. Bruner, and Anand Kumar. 2006. Interactivity and its facets revisited: Theory and empirical test. Journal of Advertising 35:35–52.

    DOI: 10.2753/JOA0091-3367350403E-mail Citation »

    Discusses various dimensions of interactivity and issues surrounding the theorization of its effects in the context of advertising research. The authors identify four dimensions of interactivity: reciprocity, responsiveness, nonverbal information, and speed of response. Experimental data are used to test and refine the model.

  • Kiousis, Spiro. 2002. Interactivity: a concept explication. New Media & Society 4:355–383.

    E-mail Citation »

    Provides a concept explication focused on interactivity. The author provides a thorough and detailed map of previous work in the area and argues for an inclusive understanding of interactivity. Specifically, Kiousis articulates interactivity as consisting of technology, communication context, and perceptions. Strategies for operationalizing interactivity are also discussed.

  • Quiring, Oliver. 2009. What do users associate with ‘interactivity’? A qualitative study on user schemata. New Media & Society 11:899–920.

    DOI: 10.1177/1461444809336511E-mail Citation »

    Takes a user-centered approach to interactivity. Qualitative interviews with a sample of “ordinary users” of computers and other information technology in Germany suggest that individuals primarily understand interactivity in social and personal terms, with relatively less emphasis on technological features.

  • Rafaeli, Sheizaf. 1988. Interactivity: From new media to communication. In SAGE Annual Review of Communication Research: Advancing Communication Science. Vol. 16. Edited by Robert P. Hawkins, John M. Wiemann, and Suzanne Pingree, 110–134. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE.

    E-mail Citation »

    This widely cited essay provides the classic statement of interactivity as a process-related or contextual concept, marked at its highest point by third-order dependency. Third-order dependency refers to the extent to which messages respond to and/or implicate previous messages in an exchange, creating the possibility of meaningful dialogue.

  • Yun, Gi Woong. 2007. Interactivity concepts examined: Response time, hypertext, role taking, and multimodality. Media Psychology 9:527–548.

    E-mail Citation »

    Explores a number of previously identified dimensions of interactivity, focusing on three independent variables: speed of response, nonlinearity of content introduced by hyperlink structures, and user involvement. Three separate experiments were conducted, producing a variety of findings concerning the effects of manipulations of these variables.

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