In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Computer-Mediated Communication

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals

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Communication Computer-Mediated Communication
Eun-Ju Lee, Soo Youn Oh
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0160


Computer-mediated communication (CMC) is an umbrella term that encompasses various forms of human communication through networked computers, which can be synchronous or asynchronous and involve one-to-one, one-to-many, or many-to-many exchanges of text, audio, and/or video messages. Early research has focused largely on how mediation by technology alters the processes and outcomes of social interaction and group processes, addressing issues such as how people express and construe self-identity, form and manage impressions, develop and maintain relationships, build communities, collaborate at a distance and make collective decisions, mostly in contrast to non-mediated, face-to-face communication. As such, core theories that guided earlier studies highlight the dearth of socio-contextual information as the defining characteristic of CMC working to its disadvantage. However, they were soon challenged by alternative models underscoring individual users’ active accommodation to the limited channel capacity and even more strategic appropriation of the constraints of the medium. In a similar vein, the dichotomous view that differentiates the “real” from the “virtual” gradually was replaced by the perspective that underscores the blurring boundary and the fluid interaction between the two. At the same time, researchers have also investigated who turns to online communication as opposed to offline, face-to-face interaction, and with what consequences. Going beyond dyadic interaction between unacquainted individuals, social and psychological implications of CMC have also been examined in various contexts, such as distributed workgroups (computer-supported cooperative work: CSCW), social network sites (SNSs), and online games.

General Overviews

In their lead article of the Symposium on the Net, the authors of Newhagen and Rafaeli 1996 set agendas for Internet communication researchers, calling for their attention to several interface- or architecture-related qualities of the Internet. About two decades later, Walther, et al. 2005 organized technological changes as well as research findings in line with these agendas and criticized the lack of theory development and monolithic treatment of the Internet. While these articles cover a wide range of topics related to CMC, the oft-cited research article Parks and Floyd 1996 centers on the prevalence of interpersonal relationships formed online. Such interpersonal focus has since characterized CMC research in the field of communication, as thoroughly reviewed in Baym 2010 with an emphasis on the seamless integration of online communication as a part of people’s everyday experience. With the maturation of CMC research as a subfield, Walther and Parks 2002 summarizes the most prominent CMC theories in terms of how they predict and explain the effects of cue deprivation in CMC. More recent scholarly efforts include edited volumes that offer a comprehensive purview of how technology affects communication on an interpersonal level (e.g., Konijn, et al. 2008; Wright and Webb 2011) and a thought-provoking report on how constant and ubiquitous connections afforded by digital technologies may bring changes to the very notion of “social” interaction (Turkle 2011).

  • Baym, Nancy. 2010. Personal connections in the digital age. Malden, MA: Polity.

    The author provides theoretical frameworks by which to understand how digital media change our self-identity, interpersonal relationships, and community life, and argues that what happens online may be newer, but is no less real. Recommended as a textbook for undergraduates.

  • Konijn, Elly A., Sonja Utz, Martin Tanis, and Susan B. Barnes, eds. 2008. Mediated interpersonal communication. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis.

    This anthology contains a wide range of reviews examining not only human-human interaction via computer, but also human-computer interaction and human interaction with media characters, with an emphasis on underlying psychological mechanisms. Suitable for upper-level undergraduates and graduates.

  • Newhagen, John E., and Sheizaf Rafaeli. 1996. Why communication researchers should study the Internet: A dialogue. Journal of Communication 46:4–13.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1996.tb01458.x

    The authors caution against research focusing exclusively on the novelty of the Internet and identify several technological attributes of the Internet that call for communication researchers’ attention.

  • Parks, Malcolm R., and Kory Floyd. 1996. Making friends in cyberspace. Journal of Communication 46:80–97.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1996.tb01462.x

    Noting the conflicting perspectives on relationships developed online, the authors show that personal relationships are common online and that many of them are highly developed, often with the help of other supplementary channels.

  • Turkle, Sherry. 2011. Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. New York: Basic Books.

    Based on a multitude of ethnographic studies, the author argues that technological development and increased connectivity ironically lead people to ascribe human qualities to objects (e.g., social robots) while treating humans as things. Recommended as a textbook for undergraduates.

  • Walther, Joseph B., Geri Gay, and Jeffrey T. Hancock. 2005. How do communication and technology researchers study the Internet? Journal of Communication 55:632–657.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2005.tb02688.x

    The authors organize notable studies and theories in the area of communication technology, according to the five defining characteristics of the Internet proposed in Newhagen and Rafaeli 1996.

  • Walther, Joseph B., and Malcolm R. Parks. 2002. Cues filtered out, cues filtered in: Computer-mediated relationships. In Handbook of interpersonal communication. 3d ed. Edited by Mark L. Knapp and John A. Daly, 529–563. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    A comprehensive review of CMC theories centering on relational dynamics that offers a discussion on how CMC is used for mental health, social functioning, social support, and relationship development.

  • Wright, Kevin B., and Lynne M. Webb, eds. 2011. Computer-Mediated Communication in personal relationships. New York: Peter Lang.

    A collection of essays examining the development and maintenance of personal relationships via CMC in varying contexts, including romantic relationships, friendship, family communication, and social support groups. Suitable for undergraduates and graduates.

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