Computer-Mediated Communication: Interpersonal – Walther

Walther, J. B. (1996). Computer-mediated communication: Impersonal, interpersonal, and hyperpersonal interaction. Communication Research, 23(1), 3-43.

Continuing from the Last post, after considering the impersonal perspective of CMC, Walther goes on to look at the interpersonal perspective. “The model assumes that communicators in CMC, like other communicators, are driven to develop social relationships” (10). While this is true of text-based social settings like chat rooms (not so popular now, but certainly so in the mid-to-late 1990s), it can be seen to be even more accurate now with communication occurring through social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook,, etc.

The key difference, as Walther sees it, between CMC and FtF communication has nothing to with the amount of social information exchanged but with the rate that it is exchanged. “The framework acknowledges that there is less social information per message in CMC because of the absence of nonverbal cues” (10). Yet, when one communicates in FtF or through some method, such as video, in which more non-verbal cues are exchanged, more social information, including emotion, tone, and even intent, are understood.

Walther goes on to discuss participants’ level of interest in each other based on how long the relationship is expected to last. For example, if two people meet waiting on a bus or in line, etc., they might exchange a few platitudinous comments on the weather, the surroundings, or something on this level. However, they are unlikely to get too in-depth in finding out about each other’s lives because there is no expectation that the conversation or relationship will last beyond a few minutes. Conversely, “Research on unmediated interaction suggests that the anticipation of future interaction prompts communicators to seek more information about one another, to act more friendly, and to cooperate in negotiations” (12).

When using the CMC in the distance classroom, I assigned the students the task of posting an introduction video. However, many students were quick to initiate an asynchronous conversation by posting textual or video comments and inquiries about some interest or personal fact another student may have mentioned. Because the students had a certain level of anticipation of future interaction, due to this being a semester-long class in which they will be communicating in this manner, they strive to collect more information on fellow classmates.

In regard to the discussion (from the last post) about the competition for floor time, the fact that everyone can post his or her comments suggests that the medium is very interpersonal. “[T]he negotiation of controversial turns and turn-taking–is unnecessary. Group members all may type their comments into a central list at the same time” (14). Essentially, since it is asynchronous, there is no competition for floor/speaking-time and all participants are afforded an opportunity to post a comment. In this way, CMC can actually generate far more comments than can FtF communication.

Next up: Computer-mediated communication: Hyperpersonal – Walther

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