Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) in its name is a rather foreign concept, but in reality, we have subconsciously been using CMC all our lives. CMC refers to any manner of conversation or communication that is done through an electronic medium. It can be generally divided into two forms, synchronous communication and asynchronous communication.
Synchronous communication is communication that happens in real-time. This means that both parties are engaged in the communication together. A few examples would be a phone call, video call, Skype, and so on.
On the other hand, asynchronous communication does not happen in real time. This means that, the sender might not receive a response immediately from the receiver after sending the message. Most CMC are asynchronous. For example, sending a private message on Facebook is asynchronous. So is replying to a blog post (like this one).
For many years, CMC has been a debatable issue. It is seen as a double edged sword. As the Chinese proverb goes, ‘Water can float a boat, but also sink it’, CMC has its own share of advantages and disadvantages. In this post, I will attempt to address the pros and cons of CMC in the context of UNIMAS students and staff.
- CMC disregards time and place dependence. Compared to face-to-face communication, CMC is not restricted in terms of time and place. This means that communication can happen anytime, anywhere. Two communicating people do not need to be available at the same time in order to communicate. They do not need to be at the same place either. A very good example would be communication between lecturers and students. During semester breaks, students would be miles away from their lecturers. However, when the need arise, students could easily approach their lecturers via emails or more simply, just through Facebook. For that same reason, many lecturers are also taking it to Facebook to communicate with their students. For example, lecturers use Facebook to spread information or instructions.
- CMC ensures superiority in reach. Compared to face-to-face communication, CMC enables users to reach out to a vast number of receivers simultaneously. This is particularly useful when it comes to informing a large group of people about the same thing. For example, if a lecturer wants to inform about a sudden cancellation of class, it makes more sense to use Facebook for this purpose instead of the more unreliable word of mouth. The lecturer’s first-hand message can reach a large amount of student at the same time, compared to irregularities that might happen when a message gets passed around by students.
- CMC facilitates the archive of information. Previous conversations can be kept for future reference. A good example that I personally experience would be when doing group assignments. When passing out instructions, or receiving instructions from someone else, it is always better to use a written medium so that we could always refer back to the instruction when needed to (especially when we forget). It also saves the communicator some time and effort from having to say the same thing over and over again. My guess would be this is why many UNIMAS students are using Whatsapp as their main medium of assignment discussion (including and especially myself).
- CMC breaks down the barriers of communication. It helps one to overcome the relationship initiation barriers that are caused by reasons such as shyness, appearance or physical limitations. I believe that many UNIMAS students share the problem of shyness when trying to approach lecturers. For some, talking to lecturers are worst than trying to overcome the Fear Factor. This is particularly worst the higher the lecturers’ positions, or the more unapproachable they deem the lecturers to be. Therefore, for many students, emailing or sending a Facebook message to the lecturers are a much appreciated alternative. Obviously, this shouldn’t be preached in the long run, but for now, students would choose whatever gets things done. On the other hand, studies worldwide have noted that CMC provided a platform so that even students with hearing or speech impairment can engage in text-based communication online without a mediator.
- CMC limits the richness of communication. Communication is not all about text and words. CMC is long noted to be lacking in terms of socio-emotional and non-verbal cues. Misunderstandings might happen due to wrong interpretations of the tone and meaning of words. For instance, one person might say something as a joke, but another person on the other side might deduce it as a fact. Misunderstandings and unintended unfriendliness might also arise particularly when dealing with late or short replies in asynchronous communication. For example, when I get a short reply from someone I’m talking to on Facebook, I constantly worry that my conversation is bothering them, even if the other party does not actually have that feeling and might just be busy with something else.
- The issue of confidentiality and trust. When we communicate via CMC, we are really putting ourselves out there. Phone and video calls can be taped, messages can be screen shot or copy pasted. In short, we have no idea what the other party can and will do with information we just shared with them. We cannot fully trust that the other party is telling the truth, because we cannot see what is really going on the other side. Let’s give a simple example. A group had just found out an ingenious way of doing a creative assignment. However, the idea was shared on Whatsapp, and one group member showed it to others even though it was previously agreed that none of them would expose their secret. In the end, several groups got high marks because of one man’s idea. Now imagine another situation, a girl confesses to a guy, and he pretends to reject her kindly, but behind the screen, he is laughing together with his friends.
- There is also limitations in technology. Computers might get spoilt, Internet servers might be down, smartphones might be out of battery, the possibilities are endless. There are a lot of things that could happen to cause a setback in CMC. For example, a few semesters ago, UNIMAS’s own Morpheus was down for an entire week soon after the semester reopened, and it caused difficulties to students and lecturers. Nothing could be shared via that portal. It is equally easy for one to avoid communication with other people. Just ignore the notifications on both smartphones and computers and you are set. The sender cannot get through to you until you are ready to receive the message. This just goes to show how limiting and unreliable CMC is when it comes to emergencies.
In my opinion, CMC cannot and should not replace face-to-face human interaction. CMC is an unavoidable part of our daily communication, and it also a tool that we use to simplify our lives. Care must be taken that we do not become overdependent on CMC in our daily communications. As responsible human beings, we must also make sure that we do not abuse the comfort CMC had given us.
What is your stand about this issue? Do you think that the advantages outweighs the disadvantages? I would love to know if CMC had ever saved your life? Or have you been thoroughly failed by it before?
Althaus, S. L. (1997). Computer mediated communication in the university classroom: An experiment with online discussions. Communication Education, 46(3), 158-174.
Lane, D. R. (1994). Computer mediated communication in the classroom: Asset or liability? Retrieved from University of Kentucky official website: http://www.uky.edu
Thompson, H. (n.d.). Computer mediated communication for learning and teaching: An analysis. Retrieved from The American University of Cairo official website: http://www.aucegypt.edu