Cyberliteracy(2) – Speed and Reach

Gurak, L. J. (2001). Cyberliteracy: Navigating the internet with awareness. New Haven Conn.; London: Yale University Press.

In Chapter two of Cyberliteracy, Laura Gurak discusses speed, reach, anonymity, and interactivity, “[T]he functional units by which most Internet communication takes place (29).” She notes that whether they are working alone or in combination, they help explain how we communicate online.

Speed
“Speed does not equal salvation; the speed of the Internet does not necessarily bring us closer to any sort of utopia. But speed is certainly changing how we live and what we expect, and it may be changing our mental states as well” (30).

Because one can create and post a video so quickly (once familiar with the soft/hardware), depending on the participant it can be easier and quicker than it is to send off a quick email. There is no salvation in that it is not some panacea for slow, lagged, distance communication. However, we–particularly in Western culture–want instant gratification and instant feedback. We can get highly frustrated when responses, downloads, and uploads take longer than they should. While the OVC cannot offer immediate feedback (albeit very close, if one happened to be online, see a new post and respond), the feedback/response it does offer is generally more planned, shaped, and though out, since one can take the time to do so: a luxury not afforded to live communication. Gurak suggests that speed inspires certain behaviors and qualities:

Oralness
Gurak again comes back to this suggestion that “technologies that encourage an oral style will discourage attention to spelling, punctuation, and other features of print” (31). Again, while I get the idea she is suggesting–that email, IM, etc. are more conversational in style and are therefore more oral in nature–I cannot fully concur with the suggested tie, since any consideration of spelling, punctuation, and capitalization is misplaced in regard to oral communication, because orality is not visual and cannot consider such features.

Casualness
She writes that because electronic texts, such as emails, get posted with such speed and the sender cannot see the person to whom the message is being sent, people tend to communicate more casually online and without reflecting on the content (32).

This suggests that if one can see the person to whom a message is sent, he or she would communicate less casually. However, I do not agree with this point. A full letter tends to be far more formal than is an email and one does not see the recipient in that setting. Conversely, when we are face-to-face with an individual, conversation tends to be less formal. However, I do concur that the speed–not the lack of seeing the recipient–of much online communication, particularly email, IM, social media messages, etc., causes communicator to send less formal messages that are not as well-thought out as a different genre, such as a full letter.

In regard to the OVC, an original speaker does not see the individual to whom he or she is speaking, but it generally takes place with a person casually speaking into a webcam. Any individual who responds has the advantage of seeing the individual to whom he or she is responding, a condition of FtF communication, but is also afforded the advantage of taking the time to craft a well-thought reply. The result is rarely, if ever, a formal reply including formal address and correct grammar. Rather, it is a casual conversational tone.

Redundancy/Repetitiveness
This refers to the fact that redundant information is often posted/sent online due to the speed and multiple ties people have to various online communities and individuals. For example, if one receives a link to an interesting news story or joke, he or she might receive the same link from multiple friends and from multiple online mailing lists of which he or she might be a member.

In the class in which I applied the OVC, similar or even redundant information was occasionally posted at almost the same time (usually on Sunday night, right before the video post assignment was due). Also, some students clearly did not read or watch every video, since they posted “new” information that was already presented from other students. In this way, there was some redundancy in the content of the postings.

Reach
“Reach is the partner of speed” (33).

Citing Kaufer and Carley (1993), Gurak defines Reach as “the number of people within a society who potentially or actually receive the … communication (or set of communications)” (34). So, just as the advent of print greatly extended the reach of information beyond that or oral communication (a printed document could be circulated more broadly and consistently than an oral story), the internet extends the reach of information even more than the printed word. Like Speed, Gurak suggests that Reach inspires certain behaviors and qualities:

Multiplicity
According to Kaufer and Carly (1993), “multiplicity is the number of people with whom you can communicate at one time” (34). Acknowledging the OVC is not live, virtually any number of people could watch a recorded video at the same time. Placed in the asynchronous classroom setting, the entire class could simultaneously watch a given video. However, a real advantage of the OVC is that people can watch and respond to recorded videos as it is convenient for them.

Globalness
“Marshall McLuhan’s “global village” is apt here [for the internet], because the reach of online technologies does indeed give us a sense that the world is a far smaller place… Globalness is related to multiplicity; both concepts involve electronic information reaching many people” (34). Unlike the broader concept of the Internet, the OVC does not provide the global village, in that it is comprised of a conversation between a small number of individuals. While those individuals could be anyplace on the globe that provides internet access, it is still a conversation, which tends to be limited in the number of participants, such as its application in a single classroom.

While the internet is open to all and can be seen as constituting a global village, Gurak notes that most websites originate in the United States. Given her text was published in 2001, that point may have changed to some extent. However, the OVC does not require excessive design, or other, skills, since it is largely just a conversation. It does require one to have some type of webcam and an internet connection, but one can participate in online video conversations that are housed on any site, anyplace in the world.

Lack of Gatekeeping
This point really refers to all of the internet and the fact that only on particular sites does one have password-protection and privacy. On the whole, virtually anyone can publish anything and access anything that is not protected. A particular OVC setting could be fully available to the public; however, in most instances, a given website (like a class site) places password protection on it, and most tools, such as Viddler, that could be used for the OVC also offer privacy on an individual level (per user or per video). So, the OVC does offer some level of gate-keeping.

Visual Reach
“The concept of reach includes more than just the number of people who see a message. Reach often involves multimedia; visual oral, and written discourse… [This means that] people with various levels of reading ability, visual acuity, and comprehension can be reached” (35). Again, using the OVC requires a very minimal ability. Particularly in regard to the setting in which I am researching it–the asynchronous online classroom (AOC)–any student who is able to navigate the internet could participate in an online video conversation.

Community
”Reach enables us to form communities of common interest across vast distances” (36). This point applies directly to the OVC in the AOC in that students could participate in the class from any location with an internet connection. This past semester, the majority of the students were located near the university campus in Arizona, but there were also students in California, Colorado, Michigan, and Canada. Additionally, a number of students traveled out of town and continued to post videos from vacation spots. However, when participating in the OVC, they are all in the same place.

“As with physical communities, network participants were located in the same “place.” Instead of being situated in a physical forum, however, this community was located in an electronic and virtual place where people with common values gathered around an issue and took action” (37).

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