"For now, imagine that it is breakfast time in 1994, and you have just settled down with a cup of coffee-substitute heated on your solar stove, to read your computer-generated equivalent of the daily newspaper, including all the news that is fit to display on your home terminal"(Hiltz 1978, xxxii). Hiltz, Starr Roxanne and Murray Turoff. The Network Nation: Human Communication via Computer. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1978.
So ends the preface to The Network Nation, the seminal 1978 text on Computer Mediated Communication, written by Starr Roxanne Hiltz and Murray Turoff. Hiltz and Turoff, already experts in the field of Computer Mediated Communication in 1978, drew on their experiences to that time, and prognosticated what they felt the future of Computer Mediated Communication would be. Their predictions were:
"Breakfast time in 1994" has arrived, coffee drinkers are as loyal as ever, and solar heating never really caught on. But what about the computer-generated daily newspaper and the rest of the predictions made by Hiltz and Turoff?
In my thesis, I will be examining each of the 14 predictions made by Hiltz and Turoff, and will evaluate each of them relative to the developments that have taken place with regards to Computer Mediated Communication over the past 16 years. I hope to determine if sufficient growth has taken place for "the Network Nation" to become a reality, or if additional time is necessary for it to come to fruition.
Section One, Introduction to Computer Mediated Communication Systems, gives a brief background on Computer Mediated Communication. It traces the history from Turoff's original work, through the resources available today.
Section Two, Prominence of CMC Within Organizations, assesses the usage of Computer Mediated Communication within the workplace. Its usage is growing, but it is not yet to the point where it can be considered prominent.
Section Three, Extent of CMC Usage, asks if societal use of Computer Mediated Communication is on par with that of the telephone. A number of factors appear to be impeding its widespread growth.
Section Four, Recreational Usage of CMC, looks at the impact that Computer Mediated Communication has had on television viewing habits. Television continues to eclipse CMC as a form of recreation.
Section Five, Psychological and Sociological Impacts of CMC, examines the impact of Computer Mediated Communication in these areas. It has indeed had a profound impact, as would any major shift in means of communication.
Section Six, Comparative Costs of CMC, attempts to determine whether or not the use of Computer Mediated Communication costs less than the mail or telephone. In the long run, it becomes significantly cheper than either of the other two media.
Section Seven, Opportunities Offered by CMC, reviews the opportunities offered to disadvantaged members of society. It has enabled the blind "to see the world" and the homeless to find jobs.
Section Eight, Centralization and Decentralization, explores the impact of Computer Mediated Communication on decision making and organizational structure. It is hard to determine any clear result in these areas.
Section Nine, Formation of Groups, assesses the aid that Computer Mediated Communication has provided in the formation of groups. On-line groups have brought people together to discuss nearly every topic imaginable.
Section Ten, Facilitation of Telecommuting, examines the growth of telecommuting as related to Computer Mediated Communivation. It has not yet grown to extent that Hiltz and Turoff had hoped.
Section Eleven, Formation of Political and Special Interest Groups, once again looks at group formation, but this time in a focused manner. Computer Mediated Communication has assisted in bringing lobbying power to the networked masses.
Section Twelve, New and Unique Services, looks at the interesting new services that have been made possible with the advent of Computer Mediated Communication. People are coming up, on a regular basis, with new ways to put computers and networks to use.
Section Thirteen, Potential for Energy Conservation, questions whether the usage of Computer Mediated Communication will lead to increased energy savings. Unfortunately, it has not, to any significant extent.
Section Fourteen, Altered Nature of Social Science Research, discusses the changes in social science that have accompanied Computer Mediated Communication. The potential for anonymity has brought with it interesting changes in behavior, for better and for worse.
Section Fifteen, Virtual Communities, looks at how people are reaching out and creating on-line communities of their own. The inhabitants of these communities can play the roles of friend or foe, just as in real life.
Section Sixteen, Survey Analysis, analyzes the results of a survey conducted via the World Wide Web. The survey was conducted to gather timely, real world data to answer some of the questions raised during my research.
In the preface to the Revised Edition of The Network Nation, published in 1993, Hiltz and Turoff had this to say:
"The first edition had one major mistake: over-optimism about the speed at which computer-mediated communication would be adopted around the world, to create a 'network nation' that spans political and social boundaries. At the time we so readily perceived and experienced the benefits of the technology that we seriously underestimated the time it would take for it to spread"(xxix).Hiltz, Starr Roxanne and Murray Turoff. The Network Nation: Human Communication via Computer. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1993.
However, they recognize the impact that the introduction of the personal computer has had, noting, "The personal computer is the facility by which users seek to integrate all of their computing, using these machines to communicate both with computer resources and other humans. There is thus a new and pervasive technological foundation for the growth of the Network Nation"
"In a few years, men will be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than face to face," predicted J.C.R. Licklider, back in 1968 (21). He believed that communication is based on more than sending and receiving; for him, modeling is basic and central to communication (22). Licklider, a visionary in the field, saw the use of computers and computer mediated communication systems as an invaluable tool in modeling, and therefore, in communicating.
Computer mediated communication systems have exploded in the quarter-century since Licklider made his prediction. They began with conferencing systems used in times of national crisis and electronic mail on the ARPAnet, and today include global electronic mail, Usenet, IRC, bulletin board systems, and subscription-based on-line services.
Murray Turoff, characterized by Howard Rheingold as "the standard eccentric prodigy" ("Tools", 306), can be considered the father of computerized conferencing. While employed at the Institute for Defense Analysis in the late 1960's, Turoff began to computerize the "Delphi method," a process developed at Rand in which printed questionnaires and responses circulate among a group of experts (306). In 1971, during the Nixon administration's wage and price freeze, the Office of Emergency Preparedness commissioned Turoff to "computerize" the voice conference call. EMISARI (the Emergency Management Information and Reference System) was the result, and today it is widely recognized as the prototype computer conferencing system (Rapaport 2-4).
EMISARI modeled group communications through the use of five elements. The first was the notebook, an open text area to which any number of people had read and write access. The party-line was an extension of the notebook, and grouped text streams into "conferences." Both the notebooks and the conferences supported keyword searching of the text. The data fields / data tables contained data entered by one authorized person for review and analysis by everyone. Delphic voting was built into the system, with voting results automatically tabulated. Electronic mail was also supported by EMISARI, as was the ability to associate mail messages with data fields or notebook entries (Rapaport 4-6). It is important to note that EMISARI supported both asynchronous and synchronous communications.
Turoff later joined the New Jersey Institute of Technology to research the uses, effects, and design of computer conferencing software, and developed the EIES conferencing system, which went on-line in 1975 (Rapaport 6). Conferencing systems continued to evolve over the next decade with the development of PLANET, PLATO, Notepad, Caucus, Picospan, and Participate. All were asynchronous/synchronous text-based systems, and all sought to assist in the task of group communication.
Also in the mid-1970's, users of the ARPAnet (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) began to utilize a "unique" feature of the electronic mail system -- the capability of communicating with a specialized, albeit unknown audience (Rheingold, "Tools" 307).
"At a technical level, the users of these systems were able to share computer resources and research findings, as they were supposed to. But it also turned out that whenever people are introduced to a computer network, they seem to want to use it to communicate with each other.
People on the ARPAnet devoted hours to composing messages. For the small community of people who had access to such systems, the continuing dialogues on AI and foreign policy, space shuttles and Spacewar, diatribes, puns, puzzles, gossip, pranks, and running jokes became a combination water-cooler and customized daily news medium" (Rheingold, "Tools" 307-8).
This "unique" feature is still strongly utilized today on the Internet, a descendent of the ARPAnet. The Internet, a global internetwork, connects several million people, and specialized listserver software for a variety of platforms enables them to communicate on topics of interest from A to Z.
The Internet, in addition to its electronic mail facilities, has both exclusively asynchronous (Usenet) and synchronous (IRC) conferencing systems available. Both allow a user to communicate with someone across the room, or around the world.
"The structure of Usenet is best described as a 'cooperative anarchy.' Usenet is administered, if at all, by volunteers, non-profit organizations and corporate research groups. Despite this lack of organization, or perhaps because of it, Usenet offers exciting possibilities for electronic publishing, information sharing, and rapid communication over large and diverse computer communication networks" (Hardy, "The Usenet System" 1)
Usenet began in 1979 as a means to facilitate UUCP (Unix-to-Unix Copy Program) communications between the University of North Carolina and Duke University. It has grown exponentially since then, and it is estimated that there are now more than 62,000 sites and over six million people exchanging messages (Hardy, "The Usenet System" 10). Usenet communication is done via messages posted to newsgroups, which can be seen as computerized special interest groups, organized in a hierarchical fashion. The focus of the newsgroups run from the serious to the sublime, as do the contents of their postings. Text posted to a newsgroup is sent out via a "flooding" algorithm, and responses are received anywhere from several hours to several days later. Henry Edward Hardy spoke highly of Usenet in his paper "The Usenet System," commenting, "Usenet may be said to be the example of computer mediated communication par excellence" (7).
Communication over the Internet, as stated before, can also be synchronous. IRC (Internet Relay Chat) originated at the University of Oulu, Finland, in 1988 (Reid 6). IRC users, in order to participate, must join a "channel." These channels host real-time conversations between people from around the globe on a variety of topics. By the early 1990's, there were hundreds of channels and thousands of people chatting across the Internet, at all hours of the day (Rheingold, "The Virtual Community" 179).
IRC is not entirely for play, however. It is used by scientists and scholars to convene informal discussions among geographically distant colleagues (Rheingold, "The Virtual Community" 179), and Elizabeth Reid notes in her Master's Thesis, "It is an excellent forum for consultations between workers on different parts of the globe - everything from programming to translation to authorial collaboration goes on on IRC" (2).
The introduction of the personal microcomputer in the mid-1970's began a movement that brought computer mediated communication to the masses. In 1978, Ward Christensen wrote CBBS (Computer Bulletin Board System), whose function, as stated by Matthew Rapaport, "...was to reproduce, in computer form, the mundane cork bulletin board covered with thumb-tacked three-by-five cards" (19). Hobbyist bulletin board systems (BBS's) proliferated extensively during the 1980's, and it is estimated that today there are between 10,000 and 15,000 BBS's in operation, allowing users to exchange text messages as well as files (Rapaport 20).
The advent of the personal computer also spurned the growth of commercial, subscription-based conferencing systems. According to Rapaport, the three largest public services supporting conferencing functions are CompuServe, GEnie and BIX (179). These services, as well as others including Delphi, Prodigy, ZiffNet, and America On-Line, allow their subscribers to take part in asynchronous conferences as well as synchronous conversations.
Webster's defines prominent as "of distinction or eminence; notable; leading; eminent." Has Computer Mediated Communication become organizationally accepted to the point where it is a "prominent" form of communications in most organizations, as Hiltz and Turoff felt it would be by the mid-1980's?
In the 1993 edition of The Network Nation, Hiltz and Turoff noted that the use of CMC in organizations has grown, and that it is now used to accomplish a wide variety of objectives. Among these objectives, they list: project management, collaborative composition of reports, task scheduling and tracking, collaborative budget estimation, product and customer support, and the exploration of complex situations (456). Trask offers a number of reasons for the wider use of CMC, including, "... communication is easier and less expensive across time and geographic locations, communication is more rapid and with greater precision to targeted groups, communication is better recorded and indexed, and communication access control and participation control is greatly improved" (23-24).
As part of the research for his Master's Thesis, Gardner Trask surveyed 132 top New England managers, computer programmers, and MBA candidates to determine the impact of new communication technologies on their companies. All of his respondents, as would be expected, noted the availability of paper, face-to-face verbal communication, and telephones. These standard means of communication were extremely prominent -- how prominent was CMC, though? The most common subset of CMC was electronic mail, with 80 respondents noting its availability. Just more than half of the respondents noted the availability of electronic document transfer and shared document databases. Much lower on the scale were computer bulletin boards, available to 43 respondents, and multi-media systems, available to 22 respondents (Trask 50). Despite the fact that the sample size is relatively small, it appears that CMC has not achieved the level of prominence in organizations that Hiltz and Turoff had hoped.
Despite the lack of widespread availability, as characterized by Trask's findings, how is CMC utilized in the companies in which it is available? Once again, paper, face-to-face, and telephone were used overwhelmingly in communicating with co-workers higher, lower, and on the same level in the hierarchical structure. Electronic mail was used by fewer than ten respondents in each case, for the same purposes. To communicate with people outside the company, 79 respondents used the phone, while only three reported using e-mail. CMC's effectiveness in widespread communication is realized in communication to the entire company, beating out face-to-face and the telephone, yet still falling far behind paper (Trask 51). These rather poor showings are certainly not representative of a "prominent" form of communication.
Even though we are now nearly a decade past Hiltz and Turoff's focus date, we can look a bit further into the future. Trask asked his respondents which methods, if they were given all possible options, they would use for communication. Electronic mail showed an increase in preference for use in communication among the corporate hierarchy, with an average of 15 respondents selecting it. One respondent would prefer to use a bulletin board system for the same task, while 11 would use one to communicate to the entire company. Once again, the ability of CMC to facilitate widespread communication was recognized, as e-mail beat out all other options for communication to the entire organization (Trask 53).
Unfortunately, it seems that even given the chance for prominence, CMC still fights an uphill battle. Face-to-face communication, among Trask's respondents, was clearly preferred for intra-company communication, even with the availability of all other possible options. The telephone demonstrated an increase in preference for communicating with people outside the company. The preference for using paper, however, did show a decrease.
Although CMC has achieved a place of prominence in large computer corporations like Digital, IBM, and Sun, why has it failed to do so among smaller companies? It is possible that smaller organizations feel that they are served adequately by the conventional means of communication. Additionally, smaller organizations may not be able to afford the costs associated with bringing CMC into the workplace. The costs include initial hardware and software costs, maintenance, upgrades, and most importantly, the training of company personnel. Until CMC becomes demonstrably cheaper and "better" than the time-honored methods of organizational communication, it will not be a prominent form of communication in most organizations.
"The telephone had extensive and unanticipated effects in part because it routinely extended attention, social contacts, and interdependencies beyond patterns determined by physical proximity. Reducing the constraints of physical proximity increased people's choice of interactions, whether with family members who had migrated from the farm to the city, or distant employees, or the boss. Amplification occurred because communication networks have a mutually causal, spiraling relationship with information networks, close relationships, conformity, and cultural change.... Our research demonstrates that, as the telephone did, new computer-based communication technology in some organizations is changing attention, social contact patterns, and interdependencies" (Sproull 7).
Has the introduction of Computer Mediated Communication had an impact on par with the introduction of the telephone? Is CMC used as widely in society today as the telephone was in 1978, when The Network Nation was written? Unfortunately, the answer to both of these questions is no. Why is this the case, and what does the future hold for the spread of CMC into society?
The usage of CMC can usually be categorized as one of three types of phenomena: substitution, add-on, or expansion. The substitution phenomena takes place when CMC replaces an alternate method of communication, such as the telephone. The add-on phenomena occurs when people keep their use of alternate communication methods constant, and just use CMC as another method. The expansion phenomena occurs as an extension of add-on, where the use of CMC stimulates additional communication via alternate methods (Hiltz, "Online" 167).
In 1984, Hiltz studied users of the EIES system to determine the effect of CMC on their usage of the telephone. She states:
"Whether substitution, add-on, or expansion phenomena are observed will vary with amount of system use. Low levels of use should not affect communications modes very much. It is probably the EIES users who spent a relatively high amount of time online (100 hours or more over eighteen to twenty-four months) who are predictive of the potential media substitution effects, should such systems become widely used within an organization or interest community" ("Online" 167).
Hiltz found that there was generally an "add-on" effect, but as system use increased, the "substitution" effect became more prominent. A quarter of the members and half of the heavy users reported a decrease in telephone use; a minority, however, demonstrated an "expansion" effect, increasing their telephone usage.
Upon the original introduction of the telephone, it is reasonable to surmise that substitution and add-on were the predominant phenomena. Phone calls, which were real-time, were substituted for written communication, as well as face-to-face, both in the workplace as well as in common society. Personal letters and business correspondence could be supplemented and followed up on with phone calls. It is important to note, however, that with the introduction of the telephone came an important shift in communication norms. No longer was the focus on text-based communication, and gone were the visual cues of face-to-face communication. Over time, people adjusted to these shifts, and the telephone has become an accepted, and generally preferred method of communication.
The introduction of CMC has prompted similar shifts. With CMC, text-based communication is once again becoming the norm. Multimedia systems are available, and are becoming better by the day, but by and large, communication is still text-based. With the shift back to text comes the removal of additional communication cues. Messages can no longer be influenced by the tone or inflection of one's voice, facial expressions, or even "body English." The current focus on text also differs a great deal from the pre-telephone textual focus, as a piece of electronic mail lacks the personality of a handwritten letter, or the respect of a letterhead.
We now must determine why CMC has failed to become as widely used as the telephone. The removal of communication cues is one major factor. Whether it is a electronic mail message, a post in a conference, or a synchronous conversation, it is still just text on a screen, and it is considered by many to be impersonal because it is coming from a computer, despite the fact that there is a real live human being on the other side.
Cost is another extremely important factor. Organizations have been slow to computerize over the last fifteen years, and only now are organizations beginning to realize the benefits inherent in networking and Computer Mediated Communication. However, this does not come cheap. Each system alone runs several thousand dollars, and that is before the costs of the necessary software, wiring, and personnel training are factored in. Implementing CMC in an organization is major financial step, and it is one that many organizations cannot afford to take.
Cost is also an important factor in the spread of CMC through common society. For the average citizen to take advantage of it, they must, at the very least, purchase a computer system and the appropriate software. Add to this the cost of the phone calls necessary to connect to the BBS or online service, and registration costs, if any. For most, the costs are prohibitive in comparison to the costs of phone equipment, monthly charges and the costs of the calls.
With the proposed "information superhighway" that promises network connectivity to one and all, along with falling prices for hardware and software, CMC may soon be a reality for the masses. Hiltz and Turoff were somewhat over-optimistic in their prediction, but given current trends, CMC should be as widely used as the telephone by the turn of the century.
Since its invention in the early twentieth century, television has extended its tendrils through society, in the city and in the country, among the rich and the poor. Programming ranges from educational to political, from thought-provoking to mindless drivel. It has achieved an almost "drug-like" status, and in this context, is probably the most widely used "recreational drug" in society today.
Has computer Mediated Communication had a discernible impact on television viewing patterns? Has CMC offered, as Hiltz and Turoff termed it, a "home recreational use" that would supplant the hours spent in front of the TV set? The answer, unfortunately, is a resounding no. There are a number of factors that have caused CMC to lose out to television in the recreational arena.
Cost is a significant factor. Consider television -- for an initial outlay of several hundred dollars, electricity costs, and an optional monthly charge for cable television services, entertainment can be provided at the push of a button. The technical aspects of television have remained relatively constant as well, meaning that a set purchased over thirty years ago is still useful today. Now consider Computer Mediated Communication. The initial purchase price of a computer system with the necessary peripherals ranges from several hundred to several thousand dollars; this amount will have to be spent every few years in order to keep pace with technological advances. Add to system costs the cost of software, monthly charges for online services, electricity costs, and the associated telephone costs. Television, in terms of recreational value per dollar, comes out far ahead of CMC.
Ease of use is another significant factor. To use a television, all one really needs to do is be able to push a button or turn a dial -- passive skills and trivially simple tasks to perform. To communicate via computer, one must, at the very least, be able to type at a reasonable pace and know how to navigate the software and communications system -- skills and tasks that require an active effort on the part of the user. Typing skills take time to refine, and the learning curve on some software packages and communication systems can be quite formidable. If you are looking for recreation with a minimal expenditure of effort, then once again, television is the clear choice.
A third factor, probably unforeseen by Hiltz and Turoff in 1978, was the advent of the video game system. The "Atari generation" of the early 1980's, and the "Nintendo generation" of the 1990's have altered both their viewing and communication habits, spending hours playing action and adventure games on video game systems hooked up to their television sets. These home video game systems, which first became popular in the early 1980's, usually cost less than $200, and individual games typically cost from $5 to $50. Viewing habits are altered because television sets are being used as displays for the video game systems. Video game players can also alter their communication habits, becoming reclusive in attempts, often in an obsessive fashion, to "beat the game."
Looked at from another angle, CMC also has the potential to increase television viewing. On Usenet News, There are a number of discussion groups dedicated to television and television personalities. A number of groups under the
alt.fan.* hierarchy are dedicated to specific programs, characters, and actors/actresses. Groups under the
rec.arts.tv.* hierarchy are dedicated to specific programs, genres, or television in general. Members of these newsgroups often compile canonical lists of episodes and broadcast schedules for upcoming episodes. It is certainly reasonable, then, to visualize a situation in which someone would watch more television, thereby increasing their chances of seeing a particular episode or guest star. Discussions about upcoming shows also have the potential to encourage additional viewing hours. Here are instances where the use of CMC may add to television viewing hours, rather than usurping them.
All is not lost for CMC, however. On many college campuses, where computers are easily accessible, conferencing is a popular method of recreation. With access to a system on the Internet, many students utilize IRC, "Multi User Dungeons" (MUDs), conferencing systems and electronic mail as recreational vehicles, corresponding with people from across campus and around the world. Students often pursue communication in this fashion with a religious fervor, most certainly neglecting television; unfortunately, they also neglect friends, food, and their studies. To them CMC is as much a drug as television is to the rest of society.
Computer Mediated Communication still has quite a way to go before it can make truly significant inroads into television viewing patterns. The obstacles associated with cost and ease of use must be overcome, and fast, before the 500 additional television channels being forecast for the near future turn us from a democratic state to a vegetative state.
"Computers could make communication easier, just as the canning of perishables and the development of can openers made food preparation easier, or they could have much more complex implications" (Kiesler 331).
The development of Computer Mediated Communication has seriously impacted group communication. The objectives and processes associated with group communication have undergone significant changes. Over 15 years ago, Hiltz and Turoff predicted that CMC would have dramatic psychological and sociological impacts on these objectives and processes. Have these changes been due to the impact of CMC? What changes have occurred?
Previously, when group communication took place through mass mailings and circulated memos, it was understood that communication would be slow, and project timeframes were scheduled accordingly. In addition, the geographic distribution of group members may have been limited so as to save on delay time and distribution costs. However, the use of CMC now makes it possible to send large amounts of information around the globe in rapid fashion. The availability of instantaneous electronic communication has changed expectations, leading participants to expect nearly instantaneous responses. Kiesler demonstrates this change, noting, "We have talked with a company president in Pittsburgh who sends mail at dinnertime asking his subordinates in Singapore for quarterly projections by breakfast" (Kiesler 333).
Because CMC is a text-based medium, physical and social cues have all but been eliminated. The removal of these cues may create some interesting problems, and resolve some others. The absence of regulating feedback, such as head nods and tone of voice may create coordination problems to express prior knowledge of a topic, something that can be done with a simple cue in a face-to-face group meeting (Kiesler 333).
Social influences are also weakened with the use of CMC. Taking the head seat at a table, speaking in a loud voice, and gesturing are no longer explicitly possible when group meetings are conducted in a textual format. It is also no longer possible to hear the tone of someone's voice, or look them in the eye. The loss of this non-verbal behavior, which is often important in bargaining situations, changes the way in which, and the extent to which, bargaining among group members occurs (Kiesler 334).
The loss of these non-verbal behavior cues, however, may have a potentially positive effect on group behavior, coupled with the removal of physical cues, especially those with respect to status and position. Kiesler notes, "Software for electronic communication is blind with respect to the vertical hierarchy in social relationships and organizations" (334). To this end, it has been found that high status people do not dominate the discussion in electronic groups as much as they do in face-to-face groups (Sproull 61). No longer do "clothes make the man," and no longer is the meeting "turf" important. CMC allows meetings to proceed in an egalitarian fashion, creating a situation in which all members may participate equally.
The introduction of CMC has increased the speed at which group members can communicate, but it has not necessarily increased the speed at which they are able to reach a consensus. In fact, certain factors associated with CMC may delay arrival at a consensus. Discussing a study they conducted in 1980, Sproull and Kiesler found an interesting effect, noting, "Groups usually take a position that is more extreme than the average of the positions held by group members before the meeting" (64). When CMC is utilized, "flaming" is also common. "Flaming" is impulsive, highly emotional, and often rude behavior that is rarely exhibited in a face-to-face setting. Sproull and Kiesler found that "tendencies to be argumentative and outspoken in electronic discussions sometimes lead to increased group conflict" (65). The tendency towards polarization of opinions in an electronic setting, coupled with the disruptive nature of flaming will certainly retard arrival at a consensus. Sproull and Kiesler concur with this, stating, "If a decision requires consensus, an electronic group has to work harder to get to it than a comparable face-to-face group does" (65).
When a consensus is finally reached, is the quality of the decision good or poor? A question such as this is hard to answer, yet Sproull and Kiesler noticed a particular trend in decisions made by electronic groups. They noted, "Groups that met face-to-face were risk averse for gain choices and risk seeking for loss choices, just as most individuals are. Yet when the same groups met electronically, they were somewhat risk seeking in all circumstances" (67). These riskier decisions may result from a number of factors. Increased conflict in solving problems, as discussed above, is one factor. Another is that electronic groups tend to consult more people before making a decision, thus increasing the number of alternatives being considered. A third is that electronic groups will more often ignore faulty reasoning put forth by members who would be respected in a face-to-face situation (Sproull 68). Group members must be conscious of this tendency towards riskier choices, and must remember that decisions made under CMC may not be valuable in all circumstances.
Not only does the use of CMC for group communication suffer from a lack of social and physical cues, it also suffers from a lack of established conventions. Norms that are common in face-to-face communication are no longer standardized. There are few shared standards for salutations, be they for personal or official correspondence. Along these lines, there are also few shared standards for the structuring of formal and informal messages, and for adapting message content to both have an impact and be polite. Kiesler calls the use of CMC "a technology in cultural transition," and asks how people will go about developing a communication network social structure for it (334-5).
Hiltz and Turoff were correct when they said that CMC would have dramatic psychological and sociological impacts on group communication processes and objectives. Gone are social and physical cues that formerly provided for efficient group communication. Gone are the status and position cues that allowed a single person to dominate a meeting. Gone are established norms and conventions. Group users of CMC must learn to work around these losses, or find alternative ways of implementing them electronically. They must be able to don the proverbial "asbestos jacket" for protection during "flame wars," and they must understand that decisions made electronically may not be valuable and valid in all cases. Because group communication via computer is a relatively recent phenomena, changes will continue to occur as cues and norms are further discarded, developed, and replaced.
"Studies have shown that considering all the costs and overhead involved, a four page document costs over three dollars to send via postal mail, nearly $10 via fax, and even more by overnight courier. Compare that to just pennies for e-mail..." (Thorat 2).
Computer Mediated Communication has all but eliminated the crucial communication variables of time and distance, and has done so at lower cost. Has electronic mail, just one application of CMC, become cheaper than the mails or long distance telephone communications, as Hiltz and Turoff had predicted? For all intents and purposes, yes. However, there are those costs associated with electronic mail that are not associated with sending mail or placing a phone call.
Dana Thorat, discussing the results of studies that have been done on the cost of electronic mail, wrote, "Those studies examined the cost categories of purchase price, installation, maintenance, network infrastructure, gateways, user training, administrator training and operational costs and concluded that the average cost per e-mail user in a large organization is approximately $300 per year" (2). However, he also notes, "Depending on the number of messages a user sends, the actual cost per message can be just pennies" (2). These additional costs, though, become almost irrelevant when the savings generated by the use of electronic mail are compared to the costs of other communication alternatives.
Sproull and Kiesler note, "Companies appreciate the savings that result from reducing telephone tag and snail mail delays..." (23). Just how much money can be saved using electronic mail? Manufacturer's Hanover Trust estimated that employees saved an average of 36 minutes per day, translating into an annual savings of $7 million. Digital Equipment Corporation estimated $28 million in marginal cost savings among managers using e-mail (Sproull 23).
Consider a comparison of asynchronous methods of communication: e-mail and "snail" mail, as it has come to be known among e-mail users. A volley of electronic mail messages on a particular subject can take place between any number of users. The exchange of each message takes place in a matter of seconds or minutes, with each message costing only several cents. In theory, it is possible for a decision to be made on the subject by the end of the business day. If the exchange were to take place via the mails, the difference is dramatic. Messages sent via first-class mail cost (per piece) 29 cents for the first ounce, and 23 cents for each additional ounce, and suffer a lag time of several days. If the Express Mail Service offered by the U.S. Postal Service were used, each piece would cost $9.95, and would arrive the next day. Couple these additional postage costs with productivity time lost due to delays and the costs of preparing the documents to be mailed, and it is clear that Computer Mediated Communication, in the form of e-mail, is significantly cheaper.
Now consider trying to accomplish the same task using the telephone, a synchronous mode of communication. If individual calls are made, the long-distance charges will add up rather quickly, as will the money wasted on telephone tag. If a conference call is made, an extra cost is incurred to set it up. In addition, because order can really only be maintained if one party speaks at a time, a conference call would tend to be quite lengthy, if an average speaking rate of 1.5 words per second is accepted (Hiltz 1993, 380). Voice communication is not as effective as written, because the parties of a phone call are forced to rely on their individual representations of the conversation, lacking any concrete text to refer to. The speed at which one reads also tends to be faster than that at which they speak. Once again, in comparison, Computer Mediated Communication clearly comes out ahead in terms of cost.
Computer Mediated Communication is also more cost effective than the mails or phone calls when file transfers are considered. Most documents nowadays reside in a computer file, as do financial forecasts and component designs. If these files can be shared as attachments to an electronic mail message or via a file transfer utility, then considerable time and cost savings can be achieved. The receiver(s) of the file(s) can then make corrections, change numbers, or tweak design specifications. This is certainly easier than describing the necessary changes over the phone. It is also cheaper than printing and shipping multiple copies of a large document or prototyping and shipping a component of some sort.
Hiltz and Turoff included a cost analysis in their 1978 edition of The Network Nation. They found that for a 221-word item (the average size of EIES items during their test period), the costs were: EIES $.45 to $1.08, Facsimile $1.92, Teletype $8.10, and Mailgram $3.96 (422). In considering mail costs between three people, costs of $.87 to $1.47 were determined. The telephone was even more expensive, ranging from $1.95 to $3.68 per item (423).
They recognized the economic advantages of Computer Mediated Communication, even as it was in its infant stages, noting, "Even without the inconveniences of mail and the impracticality of holding discussions through the mail, it would prove to be too expensive a mechanism to compete with EIES." They continued, "We doubt the viability of the telephone for the types of discussions that take place over EIES due to lack of written material or common file ability provided by the phone. Even if this were not the case the phone would still be out of the running on economic terms" (422-3). There are, however, products becoming available that combine the two media, allowing users to see and mark up documents on a computer while speaking on the phone.
As Computer Mediated Communication continues to spread throughout the workplace and society, e-mail and conferencing systems will become more prevalent, easier to use, and increasingly cheaper. If the past is any indication, postal rates will continue to climb, and long distance telephone rates, although kept in check by competition, will also go up. The costs of technology, as we have seen, will continue to fall. Hiltz and Turoff validated their prediction in 1978, when it was made. It is one that has certainly stood the test of time, and is one that will gain more strength in the coming years.
Computer Mediated Communication is not only for the "able" and "advantaged" members of society. It has also had a profound impact on the disabled and the disadvantaged, as it offers them the opportunities to acquire the skills and social ties they need, as Hiltz and Turoff stated, "to become full members of the society" (Hiltz 1978, xxix).
As a case study in assisting the disadvantaged, consider the SHWASHLOCK proposal, made by the members of the Public Electronic Network (PEN) in Santa Monica, California. The proposal's name is an acronym for "SHowers, WASHing machines, LOCKers," which PEN members, including homeless participants, agreed that homeless job-seekers most needed (Rheingold, "Virtual" 268).
"In August 1989, an artist, Bruria Finkel, posted her idea for providing a needed service. Homeless people cannot effectively seek employment without a place to shower in the morning and a free laundry service to help make them presentable, as well as a secure place to store personal belongings. And no city or nonprofit services provided those key elements" (Rheingold, "Virtual" 268-9).
By holding ongoing virtual meetings, members of the PEN Action Group were able to research why these services were lacking, as well as discuss the problems with setting them up. Ultimately, the group was successful, and was able to assist Santa Monica in making lockers, showers, and a laundry voucher system available. In addition, the homeless were able to utilize CMC in searching a job bank set up by PEN members.
Howard Rheingold best summarized how PEN was able to assist disadvantaged members of the Santa Monica community, noting, "PEN was doing what it was designed to do: enabling citizens to discuss their own agendas, surface problems of mutual concern, cooperatively design solutions, and make the ideas work in the city's official government" ("Virtual" 269).
Community computing centers also offer opportunities to the disadvantaged. Peter Miller notes, "As computers become more and more ubiquitous, their appearance among programs and agencies which serve primarily poor people is part of their natural development" (Miller, electronic mail). CMC serves as a powerful tool, as he explains:
"... participants of all ages improve their communications, writing, keyboarding and literary skills and gain knowledge of the world and others through growing telecommunications options -- online chats, e-mail and pen pals, contributing, posting and commenting on essays and stories, and working on joint projects frequently involving graphics and desktop publishing."The disabled have also benefitted from Computer Mediated Communication, manifested in the Internet and regular telecommunications. CMC is used by the disabled to learn, collaborate on projects, meet others with disabilities, and even for employment.
Project DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology) is a program at the University of Washington, directed by Sheryl Burgstahler, that recruits students with disabilities into science, engineering and mathematics academic and career programs. A key component of DO-IT is electronic mentoring, where program participants (high school students with disabilities) are brought together with mentors (college students, faculty, engineers and scientists, most with disabilities). Much of the student-mentor communication is electronic, occurring over electronic mail (Burgstahler, electronic mail).
An outstanding example of how the Internet has helped the disabled can be found in Randy Hammer, a totally blind high school junior, who is a DO-IT member. Randy was a runner-up in a national essay contest on the Internet that was sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics, the NASA K-12 Internet Project, and the National Science Foundation.
"Getting Internet access was the best thing that ever happened to me. In a way, my computer and access to the net has become my eyes to the world. I can read a newspaper, talk to people around the world, and get materials for class papers, unlike before when I had to depend on others to get the resources I needed" (Hammer, qtd. in Burgstahler, electronic mail).
Randy goes on to explain that he was able to read a newspaper for the first time in his life upon receiving his net access in August 1993. He notes, "So, the net has helped me get in better contact with the world via online newspapers." Randy is planning a career as a foreign language expert, and he uses Internet chat systems to practice his language skills with inhabitants of foreign countries. He also chats with people across the US about current events. He explains, "Thus, the net is a tool for me to get feedback from people all over the world on what they think of different things, and it's an interesting way to make new friends."
However, Randy has decided that "the best aspect of the net is the ability to get information on any topic," through listservs, Gopher space, or a host of other resources. He concludes, "In closing, the Internet has become a great part of my life...It is hard now to remember how I lived without this wealth of materials and information at my fingertips."
The disabled also utilize CMC for employment purposes. In 1971, SIEMENS AG in England began offering computer programming work to suitably qualified handicapped residents of a rehabilitation center. The program was successful, and by 1987 had become a separate company with 89 employees. Two additional offices, employing thirteen people, were opened in other parts of the country. This telecommuting setup, as well as a similar one in which the disabled perform clerical duties, are a means of offering employment and training to people with physical disabilities (Huys, 93-4).
Why has CMC achieved such a level of success in offering opportunities to the disadvantaged and disabled? Several factors play a role in the success. Adaptive technology can be used in conjunction with computers, allowing even the severely disabled to create the text with which they can communicate, and in Randy Hammer's case, "see" the world with the aid of a screen reader.
CMC encourages the growth of "virtual communities." These communities can rally to a cause in assisting the disadvantaged, as did the PEN Action Group, or they can become peer groups, as the disabled mentors and students of the DO-IT program have formed. The egalitarianism that exists within these communities is also important. CMC removes the social cues found predominantly in face-to-face and voice communication. As far as the members of the community are concerned, everyone is equal -- no longer is anyone disabled or disadvantaged.
However, it is not all a bed of roses. Access to CMC systems must be made available to everyone if they are to continue their role. Peter Miller warns, "Recognizing that in out increasingly technological society, people who are socially and economically disadvantaged will become even further disadvantaged if they lack access to computers and computer based technologies" (Miller, electronic mail).
In The Network Nation, Hiltz and Turoff (1993) wrote, "If you change the communications structure of an organization, you inevitably change also the nature of the decision-making process within it and the kinds of decisions that are likely to result. Ultimately, you change the form of the organization itself" (141). What sort of impact have the introduction of computers and CMC had -- have organizations and their associated decision-making processes become more centralized or decentralized? When the smoke clears, who holds the power?
Herbert A. Simon, in his essay "The Consequences of Computers for Centralization and Decentralization," notes, "Any change in technology that makes it cheaper and easier either to centralize or decentralize decisions will tip the balance in that direction" (216). He argues that there are three main motives for the centralization of the decision-making process, and attempts to show how the introduction of the computer affects those motives.
The first motive Simon puts forth is "to gain economies of scale (expertness)". He feels that the computer is making major contributions to raising the level of expertness in decision making on complex matters. However, he explains that there is no reason that computerized decision aids "should either be or appear to be centralizing mechanisms," if they are carefully introduced into an organization (226).
Simon's second motive was "to coordinate interdependent activities." The modeling capabilities afforded by computers allow decision makers to consider large numbers of interacting variables when looking for solutions to problems. He concludes that decisions will not become more centralized, but that centralized decisions will be made "in a far more sophisticated way," due to the advantages offered by the ability to model real-world complexities (227).
The final motive put forth by Simon was "to control lower-level activities in the interest of higher-level goals." In respect to goal setting, the use of computers opens the related decision-making process for inspection by all, making the process more objective. He feels that the use of the computer will make it easier for management to control decisions made elsewhere in the organization, and notes, "... in this way reconciling the notion of central control over goals with the notion of decentralization of the actual decision process" (227).
Michael Hammer, author of Reengineering the Corporation also found no clear impact of CMC. If "old" technologies like the U.S. mail, telephone, and even overnight express are used to move information, Hammer feels that centralization must be sacrificed in favor of flexible and responsive field operations. He notes, however, that organizations can "simultaneously reap the benefits of centralization and decentralization" (93), or even a combination thereof, by utilizing "new" technologies, including computer conferencing. He drives home his point in noting, "Every field office can be part of headquarters, and headquarters can be part of every field office" (94).
Other CMC researchers have been more pronounced in their opinions, arguing strongly in favor of decentralization. Hiltz and Turoff (1993) state that computerized conferencing can facilitate decentralization, and cite the results of a Bell Northern Research study that found that with the introduction of a conferencing system, branch managers did not need to involve the central office when solving problems, but rather were able to solve the problems amongst themselves. They support decentralization, saying, "If decisions are being made autonomously, at the local level, they might be made much more quickly and with a better understanding of the nature of the problem" (142).
In looking at the potential impact on industrial relations, Michael J. Earl also found computerized conferencing to be an aid to decentralization (363). Conferencing allows information to be distributed throughout an organization, and when coupled with the notion that information is a source of power, it can be inferred that conferencing represents a threat to the concentrated power found in a centralized organizational structure.
Elaine Kerr, collaborating with Hiltz in 1982, discussed decentralization effects on a group level. They found that computerized conferencing served to decentralize communication, and to discourage the formation of hierarchical teams in favor of more fluid ones (150). The use of computerized conferencing allows everyone to talk and listen at the same time, leading to greater group participation, and a more egalitarian distribution of power.
Marshall McLuhan took a more no-holds barred approach, and spoke of the computer moving us towards a "world consciousness." He said, "... and at the same time it dissolves hierarchy in favor of centralization." He continued, "Any business corporation requiring the use of computers for communication and record-keeping will have no other alternative but to decentralize" (103).
In summary, the introduction of computers and CMC has had no absolute impact on organizational structure, although it appears to foster the decentralization of the decision making process. By allowing for the redistribution of information, and therefore power, CMC allows everyone to take part in the decision-making process, effectively flattening organizational hierarchies.
However, the availability of CMC does not offer a necessary or sufficient condition for decentralization. Other conditions must be taken into consideration, including physical dispersion of employees/subgroups, the commitment of the organization, and the ability and willingness of employees to use CMC tools. In addition, it is possible for decision making to be decentralized, while control, which refers to the limits on decision options, remains centralized.
As a general rule, people tend to form groups, clustering themselves around common concerns, interests, or purposes. Hiltz and Turoff saw CMC as providing a fundamental mechanism for this grouping to occur, and in this regard, they could not have been more correct. Beginning with the SF-LOVERS mailing list on the ARPANET in the late 1970's, the development and extensive spread of mailing lists, USENET, localized conferencing systems, and bulletin board systems have provided fertile ground for the growth of groups around every imaginable topic.
As soon as ARPANET went on-line, people started sending electronic mail, far beyond the requirements of maintaining the network (Rheingold, "Virtual" 76). According to Rheingold, the first large mailing list to foster its own culture was SF-LOVERS, made up of ARPA researchers participating in public discussions about science fiction (77). Over the past 15 years, ARPANET has grown into the Internet, and mailing lists have flourished with it.
A quick glance through the list of "Publicly Available Mailing Lists," posted periodically to the
news.answers newsgroup, provides a sizable amount of evidence in support of Hiltz and Turoff's "grouping" prediction.
There are a number of face-to-face networks concerned with all facets of adoption, and their CMC analog can be found on
email@example.com, a list whose purpose is to "discuss anything and everything connected with adoption." Mailing lists allow net.denizens to find groups of people with related interests, be they social, recreational, sexual, or political.
firstname.lastname@example.org allows residents of the San Francisco Bay Area to discuss poker as it applies to them, while
email@example.com allows fans of the musical group Midnight Oil to discuss the band and its music.
Bisexu-L@brownvm.brown.edu provides a forum for the discussion of issues of bisexuality, and those with political interests can join
firstname.lastname@example.org, which monitors issues of "fairness" with respect to the government. A group of people with the common purpose of providing AIDS information can be found on
info-aids@rainbow.UUCP. The list acts as a clearinghouse for information and discussion about AIDS.
USENET, the asynchronous conferencing system developed in 1979, has gone global in the past 15 years, and it too supports the formation of groups. The newsgroups are organized in a hierarchical fashion under a number of main headings. Each newsgroup acts as a meeting place, where participants discuss computers hardware and software, television shows, recreational activities, politics, cultures of the world, and innumerable other topics.
Localized conferencing systems also provide a "virtual" hall in which groups can meet. At Stevens Institute of Technology, the VAXNotes conferencing system is used by the students, faculty, and administration for asynchronous conferencing. The Office of Cooperative Education uses the CO-OP conference to disseminate information to those students that are a member of the program. ERULES is an on-line meeting place for students working on a class project to discuss, of all things, rules for on-line meetings. Linux (a PC version of UNIX) enthusiasts can meet and discuss the merits of the operating system in the LINUX conference. Localized conferencing systems can be found, in some form, on campuses and in corporations world-wide.
"You can use a BBS to organize a movement, run a business, coordinate a political campaign, find an audience for your art or political rants or religious sermons, and assemble with like-minded souls to discuss matters of mutual interest" (Rheingold, "Virtual" 132).
Rheingold, in that one sentence, described the essence of the function that bulletin board systems have come to serve. Boardwatch magazine estimates that sixty thousand BBSs existed in the United States by 1993 (Rheingold, "Virtual" 132). Local governments often maintain a BBS to discuss issues of local interest. There are religious boards for people for people of all faiths, including the Catholic Information Network, Keshernet (Judaism), Zen Connection, and even the Temple of the Screaming Electron, for those that want to "step entirely off the scale," as Rheingold puts it. There are also BBSs devoted to health and medical discussions, disaster preparedness, sex, UFOs, and a myriad of other topics of concern and interest (Rheingold, "Virtual" 132-4).
The development of the personal computer, along with the explosion of facilities for CMC have not led to the development of a depersonalized, anti-social society as many had feared. Instead, they have drawn people closer together, by providing a fundamental mechanism for group formation, as well as the formation of subcultures among these groups.
Why has this happened? In studying social interaction with respect to CMC, Jill Serpentelli noted:
"First, the computer is not, especially for this subculture, purely an anti-social medium. Rather, it becomes a new medium, and for many, a better medium, of achieving new social relationships. Second, it appears that computer users see themselves as being part of something set apart, something unique and special" (6).
Geographical boundaries and time constraints have fallen by the wayside, as have the social stigmata of being associated with a particular lifestyle or hobby. The removal of the first two impediments have collapsed the globe into a "virtual community," where all of your neighbors are no more than a few keystrokes away. Belonging to a group is obviously much easier when one no longer has to worry about meeting schedules and poor travel directions. The removal of the social stigmata, coupled with removal of conversational cues and the potential for anonymity, eases the anxiety of group members who would otherwise face embarrassment.
"Given the capability of modern telecommunications and computer technologies to efficiently produce, transmit, and store information, it appears probable that many information industry workers could 'telecommute.' That is, they could perform their work, using communications and computer technologies, at locations much closer to their homes than is the case now. If telecommuting could be shown to be feasible, an alternative to commuting would be available to a significant portion of the central business district labor force" (Nilles, qtd. in Hiltz (1993) 432).
Hiltz and Turoff forecast in 1978 that CMC would allow a large percentage of the work force to telecommute for at least half of their normal work week. Unfortunately, they appear to have been overly optimistic, as telecommuting, or telework, as it is also commonly called, has not been as influential as they had hoped.
Jack Nilles, as quoted in The Network Nation, calculated that as of 1970, 38 million white collar workers, or 48.3 percent of the work force, were "information industry" workers who would be candidates for "telecommuting to work," and that the "exponential growth" of this portion of the work force suggested that a majority of all workers would soon be in this category (qtd. in Hiltz (1993) 432).
The estimates, both from Nilles and from others, have been revised in a downward fashion over the years. In 1981, Nilles was forecasting that there would be 10 million teleworkers in the United States by 1990 -- a figure representing less than 10 percent of the total workforce (Huws 204). In 1983, Bikson, of the Rand Corporation, prophesized that 10 percent of the office-based workforce (around 5 percent of the total workforce) in the United States would be doing all, or a significant part, of its work as telework (qtd. in Huws 204).
Just how short of reality have these estimates fallen? Figures indicate that today there are 7 million telecommuters (Levin 32). This is apparently an increase of 1 million people over last year's figures, representing a 15 percent increase in company employees who telework (Machado, electronic mail). Census figures from 1990 indicate that over 58 percent of U.S. employees are, as Nilles termed them, "information industry" workers (Levin 32). An increase of 10 percent over 20 years hardly agrees with the exponential growth curve that Nilles predicted.
Why telecommute? What benefits are offered to the teleworker and to the employer? There are a number of forces that have driven, and will continue to drive the spread of telecommuting. Technology has played a major role, as prices have dropped, and computing power has risen. The movement in the United States for a national information infrastructure will also aid in easing the "virtual" commute (de Heer, USENET News).
Increasing numbers of telecommuters means decreasing numbers of cars on the road. The teleworker can save time and money by not having to travel to the office, and not being stuck in traffic means they can lower their stress level, thereby increasing productivity and morale (Sproull 121). In addition, telecommuting will help 13 severely polluted cities comply with the federal Clean Air Act of 1990, which requires all companies with 100 or more employees "to reduce solo driving among their employees." (Levin 32). Less reliance on automobiles also serves to mitigate the effects of natural disasters like the recent Northridge earthquake in California. Damaged, flooded, and snow/ice covered roadways will not keep the telecommuter from getting to work.
Employers also benefit from telecommuting. By having employees work at home, money can be saved on facilities costs (Sproull 121) and office expenses (Travica 46). It is also claimed that the employer will receive higher quality work -- achieved by reducing the distractions of the office and not forcing an arbitrary office schedule onto workers (Sproull 121). By incorporating a telecommuting program into the workplace, employers can provide the impetus for a shift in management culture from attendance-oriented to output-oriented (de Heer, USENET News).
Why hasn't telecommuting lived up to the expectation of Hiltz and Turoff? A number of issues have clouded the way, both for employer and employee.
The big problem for employers is control -- both performance and social control. Monitoring performance is more difficult for those working at home. Sproull and Kiesler state, "When progress is difficult to measure hourly, managers may feel uneasy if they can't literally see their people at work" (121). They continue, "All stay-at-homes pose problems of social control for employers" (121). Because they are not "in the office," teleworkers see fewer reminders of corporate goals and identity, learn less from more experienced or successful workers, and are less easily managed by mechanisms in the physical workplace that influence employee behavior (Sproull 121-2).
For many teleworkers, the expected homelife benefits were overromanticized, and the career costs underestimated (Sproull 122). The workplace, for many, is a refuge from their children. With a home office, working is no longer necessarily a 9 to 5 affair, and may impact negatively on family life. Sproull and Kiesler point out the costs to one's career, noting, "Internal career mobility is lower among people who are unable to participate in the informal contact networks that operate in the workplace" (122). However, the opportunity cost of the loss of "internal" social networking must be factored in with the positive potential of computer-based social connections. CMC affords a teleworker the opportunity to make both social and professional contacts among people in their field and related fields. Sproull and Kiesler also note that a substantial measure of self-identity for professionals in our society comes from going to the office.
It has taken a while for the workplace to become aware of, and accustomed to, Computer Mediated Communication. People are becoming increasingly more comfortable using technology to communicate. Couple this with decreasing numbers of industrial jobs, and the increasing number of "information" workers, and the percentage of telecommuters and telework will continue to climb. However, Nilles suggests that "roughly half the office workforce is the upper limit," so percentages may not climb as high as Hiltz and Turoff had hoped (Huws 204).
Political wars continue to be fought on the battleground of the conventional news media, but "the people" now have a weapon that becomes more powerful with each passing day. Hiltz and Turoff forecasted the dramatic impact that CMC would have on the formation of political and special interest groups. Grass-roots political movements, thanks to the electronic interconnection of millions of people, are now more powerful than ever before. Supporters of candidates, as well as the candidates themselves, can now share information in a matter of minutes.
alt.politics newsgroup hierarchy is chock-full of people discussing politically-related topics of all kinds. Discussions cover the spectrum, from
alt.politics.correct allows the proponents and opponents of the political correctness movement to slug it out in a war of words. Ross Perot and Bill Clinton have newsgroups dedicated to them (
alt.politics.clinton, respectively), allowing people from around the world to watch the American political circus. Clinton and Perot themselves have also jumped into the fray:
"Whereas it took years for information and ideas to circulate by hand and to arrange the face-to-face meetings that drafted the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, computer networks can greatly speed up the process of people-to-people exchanges of information, ideas, and plans of actions. Of course, not only small or 'splinter' groups recognize this potential. By the 1980's in the United States, many presidential campaign organizations were using CMC to organize their nationwide efforts. By the 1992 campaign, the Democratic candidate was uploading position papers directly into Compuserve, and Ross Perot was promising an 'electronic town hall' that would directly involve citizens in debates and preference votes, should he be elected (Newsweek, June 22, 1992)" (Hiltz 1993, 480).
Political maneuvers on a state level have prompted CMC based responses. The
amend2-info mailing lists, both based at cs.colorado.edu, were created in response to Colorado's Amendment 2, which revoked any existing gay/lesbian/bisexual civil rights legislation, and prohibited the drafting of any new legislation. Members of the mailing lists discuss the implications and issued that surround the amendment. CMC political movements occur on a national level, as well.
"This is a pivotal moment in history." begins a message entitled "Electronic Privacy -- A Call to Action," written by the staff at WIRED Online. It focuses on an announcement made by the Clinton administration on February 4, 1994, in which the administration expressed its support for the Clipper Chip and SKIPJACK encryption scheme as national standards (1).
The message notes, "The proposed encryption scheme ... relies on a 'key escrow' system with a built-in 'back-door' so that security agents can decrypt and monitor even supposedly 'secure' communications" (1). The WIRED staff is straightforward about its feelings for Clipper, stating,
"The security agencies and the administration are involved in a stealth strike at our freedoms that could effectively abrogate the Bill of Rights in cyberspace, where we and our descendants will be spending increasingly larger parts of our lives" (2).
WIRED Online has joined together with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR) in organizing a campaign to fight the Clipper proposal. The CPSR put together an "electronic petition to oppose Clipper." The petition has been widely circulated across the Internet, on mailing lists, USENET newsgroups, and gopher sites. To sign the petition, all one has to do is send e-mail to
Clipper.email@example.com with the message "I oppose Clipper." A special edition of the "CPSR Alert" bulletin notes that over 10,000 responses were generated in the first two weeks, with daily signatures totals running at almost 2,000 per day. It also points out an interesting fact in that "The number of people who have opposed Clipper already exceeds the current estimated government orders for Clipper chips" (1).
The citizens of any country have always resisted when their rights were infringed upon, and the development of cyberspace opens a vast uncharted area in terms of rights and liberties. However, the advent of cyberspace also opens up new ways in which citizens can organize against these infringements, allowing them to fight in ways and numbers never before possible.
"The technology that makes virtual communities possible has the potential to bring enormous leverage to ordinary citizens at relatively little cost -- intellectual leverage, social leverage, commercial leverage, and most important, political leverage. But the technology will not in itself fulfill that potential; this latent technical power must be used intelligently and deliberately by an informed population. More people must learn about that leverage and learn to use it, while we still have the freedom to do so, if it is to live up to its potential" (Rheingold, "Virtual" 4-5).
No longer are political "think tanks" going to be the exclusive domain of wealthy universities and government agencies. The fact that the Internet has become so widespread and easily accessible allows layman and expert alike to collaborate on equal footing. The asynchronous facet of CMC allows people to participate at their convenience, and the high-speed nature of electronic communication allows quick turnabout for results, as the Clipper movement is demonstrating. In addition, the self-policing of the Internet allows discussion to be focused, so goals can be accomplished with a minimum of interference.
So, you've corresponded via e-mail, contributed to a computer-based conferencing system, and conversed using a synchronous chat program. Is that all that Computer Mediated Communication has to offer? Not by far -- there are a number of "new and unique" services available via the Internet and online subscription services.
Are you tired of the three-hour tape loop that your local radio station seems to be playing? Try tuning in Internet Talk Radio, a service provided by the Internet Multicasting Service. Internet Talk Radio "broadcasts" its programs as digital sound files, made available via anonymous FTP.
"Geek of the Week" is the flagship show, and features interviews with members of the technical community. "TechNation: Americans and Technology" and "SOUNDPRINT" are syndicated public radio shows that are also carried on Internet Talk Radio. Public affairs broadcasts are done by the Internet Town Hall, which carries speakers from the National Press Club Luncheon series.
Digital Equipment Corporation is helping its customers and its cash flow through its Alpha AXP Internet program. According to a press release from DEC, "The program provides customers with access to Alpha AXP systems to test, qualify, or port software, and to help them make purchase decisions." Gail Grant, the Program Manager, noted, "By putting systems on the Internet, which [Vice President Al] Gore referred to as a prototype of the information superhighway, we are allowing a larger number of potential customers to try our systems to see if they meet their business needs."
Internet-based fax gateways are also becoming an increasingly popular means for communication. With access to Internet electronic mail, you can send and receive facsimiles from nearly anywhere in the world.
AnyWare Associates FAXiNET(sm) is one such service. Their Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) file states, "Using a special electronic mail address, you can have your e-mail messages delivered to any fax machine. To receive faxes, a dedicated telephone number is provided, and faxes received to this number are automatically delivered to the e-mail address of your choice."
"An Experiment in Remote Printing," run by the Internet Multicasting Service in conjunction with Dover Beach Consulting, is another such service. Their FAQ file explains the purpose of the experiment: "The experiment is a project in outreach: to integrate the e-mail and facsimile communities...The ease in which the Internet mail infrastructure can be used to provide this facility is (yet) another example of the power of a general-purpose infrastructure."
Similar gateways can be found on CompuServe and America Online, as well as at elvis.sovusa.com. elvis.sovusa.com also offers an e-mail to postal mail gateway, as does America Online.
After a tough day at work, you remember that you have to pick up some things for the house and the kids. No need to trudge out in the lousy weather - many stores and products are now available online. The Electronic Mall, available on CompuServe, allows you to order clothes, books, music, music, coffee, fruit, and software from a number of major retailers. A similar online shopping center can also be found on America Online.
These "consumer access services," as they are denoted in Scott Yanoff's "Special Internet Connections" list, are also proliferating across the Internet. In the March 15, 1994 edition of the list, one can find 16 Telnet, Gopher and e-mail addresses that offer CD's, flowers, books, software, videotapes, and even sunglasses and electric shavers.
Before you send in your order, have you considered the security and privacy problems related to sending your credit card information over the Internet? Why not use NetCash, a service conceptualized by Gennady Medvinsky and B. Clifford Neuman.
"NetCash is a framework that supports realtime electronic payments with provision of anonymity over an unsecure network. It is designed to enable new types of services on the Internet which have not been practical to date because of the absence of a secure, scalable, potentially anonymous payment method.
NetCash strikes a balance between unconditionally anonymous electronic currency, and signed instruments analogous to checks that are more scalable but identify the principals in a transaction. It does this by providing the framework within which proposed electronic currency protocols can be integrated with the scalable, but non-anonymous, electronic banking infrastructure that has been proposed for routine transactions" (Medvinsky 1).
After a rough evening spent shopping, you'd like to relax with the day's paper or a magazine, right? Now, you no longer have to fight the dog for it -- you can just bring it up on screen. Many major newspapers and magazines are now supplementing their print distribution by publishing online as well.
The day's news is right at your fingertips. USA Today is available over the Internet at a number of Telnet and Gopher sites. CompuServe offers news from The Associated Press, The Washington Post, Reuters, and United Press International, as well as international news from ITAR, Kyodo News Service, Xinhua News Agency and Deutsche Press-Agentur.
Still in the demo stages at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab is NewsPeek, "a selective home-publishable semiautomatic electronic newspaper that knows the reader, made of material drawn daily from Dow Jones News Retrieval, Nexis, XPress, and wire services, along with television news" (Brand 36). Stewart Brand explains its importance, noting, "With an electronic newspaper, the whole 100 percent of what the newsroom has could be accessed, and most of what would be selectively delivered to the reader might be used" (38).
If you'd rather peruse a magazine, America Online features TIME, OMNI, Compute!, PC World, and Windows Magazine. On the Internet, WIRED Magazine is available via Gopher or the World Wide Web. A number of smaller, more eclectic "'zines" can also be found on the Internet, usually at Gopher and FTP sites.
In 1978, Hiltz and Turoff foresaw the advent of these "new and unique" services. In the past 16 years, CMC systems have become available on a global basis, and available bandwidth and computing power has grown by several orders of magnitude. The public has gained greater access to CMC, and have become more comfortable using it for communication. This increased access and greater acceptance have played a major role in the development and usage of these services.
Factors including increased bandwidth, powerful yet inexpensive systems, the continued growth and spread of CMC, and the development of secure fund-transfer mechanisms will support the growth of these services. In another 16 years, there will be services available that Hiltz and Turoff could have only dreamed about. We must be careful, however, that we do not create a society that never leaves their terminal.
Telecommuting not only holds potential for the employer and the employee, but for the environment as well. By substituting Computer Mediated Communications for travel, sizable amounts of energy (fuel) can be conserved. Hiltz and Turoff realized this sixteen years ago, and time has served to uphold their realization, to some extent.
The United States government has also noticed the energy savings to be gained by telecommuting -- "Telecommuters working for big companies count as people who don't drive to work" (Levin 32). The Clean Air Act of 1990 mandates that the number of riders per car increase from 1.3 to 1.5. It is estimated that this increase will save 1.5 billion gallons of fuel by the year 2000. Telecommuting also cuts down on pollution, as this mandate is expected to prevent 3.5 million tons of carbon from polluting the air (Levin 32).
Nilles dramatized the amount of energy savings that are possible by replacing automobile commutation with CMC. He calculated that the ratio between energy consumption for the average automobile commutation and the electrical energy necessary for the daily use of CMC is about 60 to one. Nilles noted that for each 1% of the urban work force that replaced automobile commutation with telecommuting, U.S. gasoline consumption would decrease by 5.36 million barrels (168.84 million gallons) annually (Nilles, qtd. in Hiltz (1993) 432).
Hiltz studied the substitution of CMC for travel in her 1984 book, Online Communities. She found that, among EIES users, the use of CMC did not significantly impact attendance at professional society meetings. Hiltz noted that among her respondents, 80% reported that CMC had "no effect". Among those respondents that perceived an effect, increases in travel were just as likely as decreases. In considering travel for a personal visit with a distant colleague, Hiltz reported that travel was again about as likely to increase as decrease (170).
Teleconferencing, which uses specially equipped rooms in remote locations to allow people to hear and see each other and work together as if they were in the same room, allows people to meet without having to travel. Hammer notes, "Initially, most organizations saw the value of teleconferencing as a means of reducing travel..." (88). Less travel means higher fuel and energy savings. However, Hammer declares, "In this respect, teleconferencing has, by and large, proved a monumental failure" (88). He explains that the undertaking of a trip attaches an importance to the message ultimately delivered, and that "The non-verbal communication that takes place in a face-to-face meeting is probably more important than most of the words actually spoken" (88-9).
Although, in theory, the use of CMC should reduce travel, thereby saving energy, there is a flipside. As you spend more time online, the number of people in your virtual community is bound to grow. Having never met these people face-to-face, human curiosity would prompt a more personal meeting. If your virtual neighbor is not also a "local" neighbor, then these meetings will result in additional travel, and thus additional fuel consumption. Hiltz supports this, noting that among the heaviest users of EIES, almost a quarter reported an increase in travel for personal visits with distant colleagues ("Online" 170).
Picture a society in which gender switching is no longer a painful, expensive, and complicated procedure. In this same society, privacy is dissolved as full credit, medical, and criminal histories are readily available. Does it sound like a social scientist's nightmare? If so, then they better wake up fast, because that society is our society. The introduction and proliferation of Computer Mediated Communication has indeed given social scientists a host of new things to study about human systems and communication processes.
On IRC, a conferencing system on the Internet, participants interact anonymously, save for their nicknames. This is nearly identical to a CB radio chat, except that you can no longer identify the gender of the participants by the sound of their voice. Elizabeth Reid describes what this can lead to, noting, "IRC destroys the usually all but insurmountable confines of sex: changing gender is as simple as changing one's nickname to something that suggests the opposite of one's actual gender" (9). She also notes that it is possible for IRC to become an arena for experimentation with gender specific social roles. Outside the world of IRC, gender experimentation is often a taboo subject. Users of IRC understand that the medium allows for it, and many take advantage of the opportunity to play with their identity. "IRC enables people to deconstruct aspects of their own identity, and of their cultural classification, and to challenge and obscure the boundaries between some of our most deeply felt cultural significances," states Reid (10).
On-line romances are also a new phenomena brought forth by CMC. It is now possible for two people to meet, get to know one another, and fall in love, having never met in a face-to-face manner. These net.romances even, in some cases, lead to matrimony. One must be careful, however, that these net.romances do not cross paths with the gender switching phenomena described above. "The Strange Case of the Electronic Lover," written by Lindsy Van Gelder, describes Joan, a member of Compuserve's CB channels. Joan, according to those that knew her, was a neurophysiologist, in her late twenties, who had been disfigured, crippled, and left mute by an automobile accident. Howard Rheingold describes what happened when the paths finally crossed:
"Joan connected with people in a special way, achieved intimacy rapidly, and gave much valuable advice and support to many others, especially disabled women. She changed people's lives. So it was a shock when Joan was unmasked as someone who in real life, IRL, was neither disabled, disfigured, mute, nor female. Joan was a New York psychiatrist, Alex, who had become obsessed with his own experiments in being treated as a female and participating in female friendships" ("Virtual" 165).
"Personal relationships amongst participants in computer-mediated communication systems can often be deep and highly emotional," notes Reid (12). The lack of social context cues allows people to "open up" to each other, and allows them to form strong friendships. However, the same lack of social context cues also leads to "reduced self-regulation," with people behaving "in a more uninhibited manner than they would in face-to-face encounters" (Reid 10). This uninhibited behavior often results in "flaming" and hostile, emotionally charged discussions. It is extremely interesting that the same lack of cues can have such strongly positive and negative effects.
The anonymity afforded by Computer Mediated Communication can also play a positive role. The lack of an established identity plays a similar role to that of fiction, allowing people to stretch their horizons. By shedding the physical and social boundaries of real life, users can let their imaginations run wild, and they can assume any persona that they desire.
People who have "open" personalities on the net may in fact be extremely private people in real life. However, with some ingenuity and some computer work, you can find out a great deal about these people. Charles Dunlop and Rob Kling comment:
"In any era, organizations use the available technologies for keeping records; papyrus and paper were used for centuries. But in modern societies, where computers and telecommunications are a common medium for storing and accessing organizational records, the opportunities for social control, and the nature of potential problems, have changed a great deal" (411).
A great deal of information is stored on nearly every American citizen by both government agencies and private organizations. However, when the data that is stored is incorrect or out of date, a person's life can be turned upside down. Dunlop and Kling illustrate this, noting, "Consequently, inaccurate police records, medical records, employment histories, etc., can harm people without their explicit knowledge about why they are having trouble getting a job, a loan, etc." (413).
Privacy with respect to voting records has also been impacted by CMC. Now that it is possible to collect and transmit votes via computer, steps need to be taken that they are properly and securely transmitted, recorded, and correlated. However, this must all be done in such a fashion so as to protect the anonymity of the voting public. Voting records must not reveal to others who a voter chose, yet they must allow the voter to verify that their choices were correctly recorded. These records, be they correct or incorrect, need to be protected so that they cannot be used in a malicious manner against any individual voter or group of voters.
The introduction and spread of Computer Mediated Communication has given social science researchers broad new areas to analyze and study. Privacy of information is more important in this electronic age than ever before. Friendships and "flame wars" can both be traced to identical roots. Romances with complete strangers, often of indeterminate gender, are now possible. These new areas, as well as others, have indeed, as Hiltz and Turoff projected, dramatically altered the nature of social science research that is concerned with the study of human systems and human communication processes. As greater numbers of people begin to communicate via computer, and as greater amounts of information are stored on these people, social scientists will certainly be kept busy.
"The idea of a community accessible only via my computer screen sounded cold to me at first, but I learned quickly that people can feel passionately about e-mail and computer conferences. I've become one of them. I care about those people I met through my computer, and I care deeply about the future of the medium that enables us to assemble.
I'm not alone in this emotional attachment to an apparently bloodless technological ritual. Millions of people on every continent also participate in the computer-mediated social groups known as virtual communities, and this population is growing fast" (Rheingold, "Virtual" 1).
Over 25 years ago, J.C.R. Licklider envisioned these virtual communities and asked, "What will on-line communities be like?" He followed up with an answer, noting, "In most fields they will consist of geographically separated members, sometimes grouped in small clusters and sometimes working individually. They will be communities not of common location, but of common interest" (37-8). Ten years later, Hiltz and Turoff expanded on this answer in The Network Nation.
Hiltz and Turoff certainly hit the proverbial bull's eye with their final prediction regarding the impact of Computer Mediated Communication. They foresaw that it would "facilitate a richness and variability of human groupings and relationships almost impossible to comprehend" (xxx). The mold of the urban community has been shattered, because within the virtual community, your best friends no longer live across the street or down the block. On the contrary -- there is a high probability that they live in another town, city, state, or even country. Why has CMC made these groupings and relationships possible, and what sort of groupings and relationships have grown from the use of CMC?
In his Master's Thesis, Bozidar Travica takes a stab at answering the first question. He notes that computer conferencing makes at least two things possible: 1) communication between people who would not have met otherwise, and 2) group communication regardless of the distance separating the actors (7). Hiltz and Turoff (1993) also note that computer conferencing allows for "stored human experience" and a "shared information space" (427-8). The stored experiences and shared space allow people to enter a pre-existing relationship or group and catch up on what has happened to date. No longer is anyone a "new kid on the block" -- CMC provides the opportunity for everyone to stand on equal footing. Conferencing allows members to develop trust for one another, despite the fact that they have never met, and may never meet. Travica notes this, saying:
"IBMPC [a global conferencing system within IBM] members feel more commitment and reliance for the people they meet in the 'electronic space,' than with the people living in the same city or the next door" (169).
A prime example of a human grouping almost impossible to comprehend can be found in the WEIRD conference, created under the VAXNotes conferencing software at Stevens Institute of Technology. The conference has attracted a large number of contributors, as well as a sizable number of "lurkers," users who read but do not post.
WEIRD itself serves many functions. Topics in it include "You Know You're Happy When...", "Things That Piss You Off", "Highlight of the Day", and "What I Learned Today", among a host of others. The conference acts as a friend, a sounding board, a shoulder to cry on, a vent for anger, a showcase, and a straight man. WEIRD has spawned a rather unique group, dubbed "BiLL's Posse," named after the conference moderator, which includes contributors to the conference. Friendships and relationships have developed among "Posse" members. Always interesting to watch is the first face-to-face meeting of conference members, who have previously only known each other by their usernames.
Just as WEIRD can be used as a shoulder to cry on, other conferencing systems are being used in a similar fashion. Howard Rheingold described how members of the WELL, a conferencing system, reacted when Blair Newman, a prolific contributor and friend to many, committed suicide:
"...But death somehow seems more real, even if your only participation is in the virtual funeral. How could any of us who looked each other in the eye that afternoon in the funeral home deny that the bonds between us were growing into something real?
The feelings ran just as high during the virtual part of the grieving rituals as they did during the face-to-face part -- indeed, with many of the social constraints of proper funeral behavior removed, the online version was the occasion for venting of anger that would have been inappropriate in a face-to-face gathering. ...As one WELLite, John P. Barlow, said at the time, you aren't a real community until you have a funeral" ("Virtual" 37).
A thoroughly impressive example of the groupings and relationships possible within a virtual community can be found on LambdaMOO, and object-oriented multi-user dungeon, developed by Pavel Curtis at Xerox. Julian Dibbell, author of "A Rape in Cyberspace," gives some background:
"It's the story of a man named Mr. Bungle, and of the ghostly sexual violence committed in the halls of LambdaMOO, and most importantly of the ways his violence and his victims challenged the 1000 and more residents of that surreal, magic-infested mansion to become, finally, the community so many of them already believed they were" (1).
Dibbell relates what happened in the wake of virtual rapes committed by Mr. Bungle. Within days of the occurrences, the call was made for him to be "toaded," essentially erasing his character from the face of LambdaMOO. However, the toading needed to be done by a "wizard," described by Dibbell as "master programmers of the MOO, spelunkers of the database's deepest code-structures and custodians of its day-to-day administrative trivia" (7). It had been decided several months earlier that wizards "would make no decisions affecting the social life of the MOO, but only implement whatever decisions the community as a whole directed them to" (7).
Suddenly, members of LambdaMOO found themselves faced with the task of defining a community and a social organization within their "loose, amorphous agglomeration of individuals" (7). This led to heated discussions for and against the virtual death penalty, and most interestingly, to the need for the MOO's resident anarchists to take a position. After considerable deliberation and discussion, despite the lack of a clear outcome, a lone wizard made the decision to take the life of Mr. Bungle.
We have seen here only a small example of groupings and relationships made possible by CMC. Real life death extends into virtual grief, and action is necessitated after virtual rapes. On a happier note, CMC also makes possible new friendships, relationships, and "posses." Virtual communities transcend the barriers of time and space, and allow users across the globe to become friendly and emotionally attached to people they may never meet. Residents of virtual communities share happiness, anger, humor, and grief, and they band together if for no other reason than because they can.
In the course of doing "book research" for this paper, I discovered that a few of the predictions that Hiltz and Turoff made were ambiguous, and that I had not found satisfactory answers to some of my questions. To this end, I made use of Computer Mediated Communication, by designing and conducting a survey in an attempt to gather timely information on my problem topics.
The survey was conducted over the Internet, and was accessible via an Internet tool known as the World Wide Web. It was conducted with the assistance of SmartChoice Technologies, and was available at the URL http://copeland.smartchoice.com/~dbelson/survey.html. Data was collected from 200 respondents during the period March 20, 1994 to April 18, 1994. The results of the survey were compiled and analyzed with the assistance of Dana Fagerstrom of SmartChoice.
A copy of the survey instrument can be found in Appendix A. The questions were chosen to allow me to gather data on the problem topics that will be identified below. In addition, a set of questions concerning the usage of Internet tools was included, as was a set regarding the survey itself. The questions were carefully worded so that they were not ambiguous, and so that they were focused on a particular area. Responses were primarily from the United States, but users in Canada, the United Kingdom, Norway, Estonia, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, France, Brazil, and Germany participated as well. More than half of the respondents (102) were affiliated with an educational institution. Users at commercial sites accounted for 57 responses, and military and government users for 24. Five responses were logged from users employed by network service providers, and nine from users at organization sites. The survey can be considered to be representative of "sophisticated" users -- people familiar and comfortable with the Internet and CMC.
The first question in the survey is related to Hiltz and Turoff's first prediction regarding the prominence of CMC. Based on book research, it appeared that CMC was not a particularly prominent mode of communication in most organizations. When asked to pick the ways in which they most frequently communicated with colleagues, electronic mail came out ahead, with 144 votes. Face-to-face received 128 votes, reinforcing its importance in communication. The telephone received 92 votes, while "snail" mail garnered only 9. Internet users appear to be extremely comfortable with CMC, and it appears that it is, in the form of electronic mail, a prominent form of communication within their organizations. Figure 1 illustrates the responses to the first survey question.
Survey question number 7 is also related to the first prediction. It was designed to gauge the availability of CMC tools in organizations, and to assist in determining the most prominent tools. As can be expected, those users that use e-mail to communicate reported its availability. On-line calendars and meeting schedulers garnered 52 and 37 votes respectively. Both synchronous and asynchronous conferencing facilities were available to only about 13% of the respondents. See Figure 2 for a graphical representation of the results.
Electronic mail is clearly the most prominent form of CMC. Organizations appear to be making use on-line scheduling aids as well. The need to schedule face-to-face meetings can possibly be correlated with the disappointing showing by conferencing systems. Once again, more time is needed before people are comfortable with full scale on-line communication.
The second survey question dealt with telecommuting, the subject of Hiltz and Turoff's ninth prediction. Research indicated that the actual number of telecommuters falls far short of Hiltz and Turoff's hopes, as well as the hopes of others. Analysis of the survey data indicated that nearly 40% of the respondents chose "Never, I don't telecommute" while 25% chose "1 day a week." This result validates the conclusion that telecommuting still has a way to go. The result, however, be partially attributable to the large group of responses from users at educational institutions. Commercial users accounted for only 30% of the responses, but unfortunately, the analysis performed does not indicate the status of telecommuting within this particular group.
Survey questions three and four dealt explicitly with Internet tools and their usefulness. These questions were not expressly related to any of the problem topics. Figure 3 graphically illustrates which tools survey respondents make use of. The World Wide Web (WWW), a hypermedia information retrieval system, closely edged out Usenet News and Telnet as the most commonly used tool. One potential anomaly with this result is that both Usenet and Telnet are accessible from within the World Wide Web, thus causing respondents to choose only one and not include the others.
World Wide Web, however, appears to be considered the most useful Internet tool. WWW browsers function as a high-level Internet shell, allowing users access to hypermedia as well as other Internet tools. The World Wide Web is a relatively new Internet tool, and its usage has grown astronomically over the past year. With the continuing development of increasingly sophisticated browsers, its utility will almost certainly continue to grow. Figure 4 illustrates the perceived utility of WWW in comparison to the other tools.
Only 82 respondents indicated that they were members of a network-based special interest group. This fifth survey question is related to predictions eight and ten made by Hiltz and Turoff. The subjects of the interest groups varied widely, from social and recreational topics to academically and occupationally focused topics. The results of this question are rather surprising. These groups are easy to join, and generally provide information that is of use to the member. However, many groups can be "high traffic", quickly filling a subscriber's mailbox. Organizational or institutional constraints on electronic mail may provide some explanation for this response.
The sixth survey question was asked with regards to prediction 12, in an attempt to determine if people do, in fact, use CMC as a substitute for travel. The results were extremely disappointing, with 74 respondents indicating that they have never used any of the choices given to replace travel. Video teleconferencing made the "strongest" showing, with 43 responses. Conferencing systems made an extremely poor showing, with multimedia synchronous conferencing being used the least. Figure 5 illustrates the results. Apparently, the need to be physically "at" a meeting is still extremely important.
Prediction seven is addressed by questions eight and nine of the survey. The eighth question asked if a change in autonomy to make decisions has been perceived since CMC was introduced into their organizational decision making process. The data collected indicates a strong consensus among respondents that autonomy has increased. This result concurs with opinions voiced by those in the field. The ninth question asks if there is any perceived change in organizational structure. The data collected indicates a strong consensus among respondents that there organizations have become more hierarchical. This result was unexpected, but it may be attributed to a number of factors. Although it disagrees with the opinions of those who study the field, it is certainly possible to reconcile an increase in hierarchy with increased autonomy. More likely, however, is that the data is biased by the 102 responses from educationally related users. Unfortunately, the analysis performed does not allow for the examination of data collected explicitly from commercial users.
Computer Mediated Communication was in its infancy in 1978, when Hiltz and Turoff wrote The Network Nation. Today, sixteen years later, CMC is still in the process of learning to walk. Like any "newborn" technology, CMC has had to prove its worth in academic, business, and social situations. However, it is different than other new technologies, in that it has the innate potential to radically change the way people communicate. CMC has made remarkable strides in terms of acceptance since 1978, yet it still has quite a way to go.
Analyzing the predictions made by Hiltz and Turoff in 1978 was a perplexing task. The predictions were not explicit, but instead were concerned with the direction and/or magnitude of changes. The predictions that dealt with the direction of change tended to be rather vague, and often forecast a "dramatic" impact. Exactly what constitutes a dramatic impact is open to interpretation, thereby making it hard to determine the accuracy of the predictions in question. While undertaking the research and analysis, a concerted effort was made to interpret these predictions with consideration to the frame of reference in which they were written. Determinations of accuracy, in these cases, were based on the current state of the world with respect to CMC.
Those predictions that were concerned with the magnitude of change were somewhat easier to assess for accuracy. Even though they dealt with magnitude, their wording was somewhat vague as well, pointing towards "sizable amounts" and "large percentages." It was somewhat easier, though, to interpret these terms, which allowed me to use concrete figures in assessing their accuracy.
In considering the accuracy of the predictions, it seems that Hiltz and Turoff were accurate on about half of them. These include predictions four, five, six, eight, ten, eleven, thirteen, and fourteen. Predictions three, nine, and twelve, however, have not withstood the test of time. The impacts of CMC discussed in these three predictions have failed to materialize to the extent that Hiltz and Turoff had hoped they would. Predictions one, two, and seven can be characterized by the phrase "close, but no cigar." The foci of these predictions are well on their way to validating themselves, yet I they still need another few years in order to fully develop. Due to the vague wording of the predictions, however, these assessments of success or failure should in no way be considered to be absolute. Alternative interpretations of the predictions may possibly lead to entirely different conclusions.
Regarding the questions and concerns raised by Hiltz and Turoff in 1978, there are related topics that beg additional research, especially in light of rapidly advancing technologies. Unanswered questions that provide grounds for further research include:
These questions may not be answerable now. It may, in fact, be another sixteen years before satisfactory answers can be determined, or it may take longer, as was/is the case with Hiltz and Turoff. Computer Mediated Communication, even in its early years, is having a profound impact on the way people communicate. As the technologies associated with it continue to develop, its acceptance in society will continue to grow. Hiltz and Turoff (1993) claim, "...we will reach the point where no one will think twice about using a computer for communication" (511).
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