Friday, 6 October 2006

Feenberg: Anxieties and pitfalls during CMC

Feenberg raises some interesting observations about the nature of CMC: that 'phatic' signs are bybassed; that responses and even silences can amplify social insecurities; that online identity is somehow removed from the world; and that communication requires 'absorbtion'. His later suggestions for effective moderation seem to offer a way to minimise these apparent risks and hazards involved in CMC. It is certainly insightful at highlighting the potential pitfalls involved in CMC but i have some issues with his arguments.

First of all, I get a strong sense that his concern about insecurities is itself over-amplified, and that either I am just insensitive, or the product of an e-literate younger generation (or both), but I would suggest that CMC is, if anything, anxiety-REDUCING, rather than -inducing. This is mainly due to the lack of visual and aural stimuli in CMC - as a result participants will judge each other (and themselves) solely on words, nothing else, hence cutting out many things to be anxious about. Admittedly people may become anxious if they feel they are unable to match the standard of prose and content contributed by the group, but this would be the same in a f2f context. In a CMC environment, participants will not become anxious about how they look, how they sound, whether they're too old or young or how they dress. They are also less likely to feel obliged to conform to social heirarchies.

Secondly, far from being 'distanced from the world and itself', the online of identity of a participant is in my view no less 'authentic' or 'real' than in a f2f setting. The medium of self-expression is different, but the person is not. Take for example, a person using sign language - the medium for communication differs from speech, but the medium allows for no less of an expression of selfhood than spoken speech. Similarly, when a person uses written language to present themselves, an identity of sorts is formed, on which others form judgements based on vocabulary, content, style etc, and though different to one formed using visual or auditory cues, is an identity that is no less valid.

Thirdly, I am not entirely convinced that the goal of CMC is or should be 'to prolong the game and avoid making the last move'. It may be argued that 'absorption', or the practice of 'communicating something AND evoking participation', makes for an engaging discussion experience, but this could be said of any medium of communication, be it CMC, speaking, or even sign language. Feenberg has in my view, not really presented any aspect of communication that is consigned solely to CMC.

That's enough gripes. And so on a positive note, I think his suggestions for effective moderation are useful, particularly his view that in CMC the moderator should be more prescriptive than s/he may be in a f2f setting. I would also add that the moderator plays a vital role in keeping the focus of the discussion on task. It seems from the short experience I've had so far in this sychronous environment that it can be easy to get side-tracked - though whether this likelihood is any greater than in 'real life' I've yet to decide.

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