Interpersonal Communication

Definition:

Junghyun Kim, citing (Cathcart & Gumpert, 1983), defines Interpersonal communication as:
[A] dyadic(sic) interaction that takes the form of verbal and nonverbal exchanges between two (or a small group of) individuals, consciously aware of each other, usually interacting in the same time and space. Through interpersonal communication, people maintain and adjust their self-image, relate to others, cooperate in decision-making, or accomplish tasks together.

This definition favors FtF communication as the highest form of personal interaction over other communication forms in that it occurs in real-time, in a single location, between two or more individuals relating to, and working with, others. I’d like to extend this definition to include more computer mediated communication, specifically, the online video conversation. I think this is achieved by acknowledging that it need not take place in real time or in a single space, yet includes many of the same social purposes and benefits of FtF.

Consider real-time video using Skype, Ustream, or even a video-enabled IM client. In this setting, it is occurring in real-time, but the participants can be at very distant locations. Conversely, in the instance of the OVC, it is not in real-time and participants are not likely in the same location. However, I’d argue that he perceived proximity of the speaker being right in front of the camera, the viewer’s ability to see the gestures/appearance and audio intonation, and the ability to exchange comments in an on-going manner meets or perhaps even exceeds the inter-personal level gained from FtF.

With the OVC, a participant cannot interrupt the speaker as one might in a FtF setting. This is beneficial in that the OVC speaker can complete a thought (an arguably more well-thought/planned thought) that might otherwise get halted by an interruption, and the conversation might go a different direction. While one might mourn this point, it is arguable that the new path might be more, or at least equally, interesting and beneficial to the topic. The participants cannot, however, follow both conversational forks in the FtF setting since the linearity of time makes it impossible. Conversely, one can participate in multiple tangents and redirections from a given topic in the OVC setting. This multi-pathed, simultaneous converation is possible due to the fact that a participant may make a comment (either textually or vidually) at a given point within a speaker’s timeline. The benefit is that a viewer can comment at the point of interest, as one might be inclined to do in a FtF setting, yet without disturbing the flow and completion of the original thought, and while maintaining the possibility of the conversation veering off into a new direction in which both participants can partake.

Additionally, this entire process is archived, so one can follow all paths and either passively view or actively participate in one or more aspects of the conversation. Add to this the fact that one can view these conversations repeatedly to get clarification o point, recall some element, or simply for enjoyment, and one can see the interpersonal benefits of this communication practice.

Therefore, for the purposes of this paper my use of “interpersonal communication” refers to a social or informational interaction comprised of one or more both verbal and nonverbal communication exchanges between a small group of individuals, consciously aware of each other, interacting within a perceived proximate distance and within a relatively finite period of time.

The stated time period is intentionally vague, since it could occur in real-time, in near real-time, or over a period of days. However, at some point-perhaps a month–there is a timeliness that is no longer there. The exact period of time that expires before this point occurs is not a set period; it is based on the situation, individuals involved, and likely the topic, as well.

Kim, Junghyun. “Interpersonal Interaction in Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) : Exploratory Qualitative Research based on Critical Review of the Existing Theories” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Marriott Hotel, San Diego, CA, May 27, 2003.

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