Communication is one of the people’s needs who are eager to share their knowledge and experiences with others. People have developed numerous channels of communication and the beginning of the 21st century is one of the most remarkable periods in this respect. Development of technology-enabled people to squeeze the world where people from different parts can communicate easily. Computer-mediated communication (CMC) is now becoming more and more widespread. In countries where people can access the Internet quite easily, CMC can soon become more common than face-to-face communication, or at least, some researchers have such fears (Chen, 2012). Many people are afraid of such a proliferation of technology as they say that people are replacing the real world with the digital world, which is seen as absolutely hazardous and inappropriate. At the same time, it is necessary to note that CMC has numerous benefits especially when it comes to intercultural communication and, hence, it is important to further research the effects it has rather than trying to focus on its negative sides that are commonly associated with interpersonal communication.
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First, it is important to define some terms that will be used in the paper. Thus, interpersonal communication can be hard to define, as it is a complex concept. Dimbleby and Burton (2007, p. 44) note the communication can be seen as “the channels through which” people “pass messages to others”. People have identified two major channels: non-verbal and verbal communication. Verbal communication is constituted by words while non-verbal communication is the use of body language (gesture, expression, body posture and space, touch), paralanguage (expressing emotions and personality, for example, whistling or sighing to show surprise or satisfaction) and dress (clothes, make-up, hair, jewellery and similar things that reveal people’s personality, social status, beliefs and so on).
Computer-mediated communication is associated with such forms of social media as Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and so on. It is mainly seen as verbal communication, but it is clear that CMC also incorporates non-verbal tools (for example, emoticons, avatars, body language and paralanguage when it comes to Skype). A speech community is another important concept that will be used in the paper. Wood (2012, p. 104) defines a speech community as a group of people who “share norms about how to use talk and what purposes it serves”. Thus, many young people note that they use vocabulary and punctuation (or rather no punctuation) that are common for online communication in their academic works. Clearly, vocabulary and communication patterns common for online communication also penetrate into face-to-face communication.
As has been mentioned above, some people think that CMC negatively affects interpersonal communication. Some people argue that modern people rely heavily on technology and tend to make (as well as maintain) acquaintances online rather than during some social occasions (Dimbleby & Burton, 2007). It is necessary to note that people often feel more comfortable online as there is certain kind of safety and their own space (in many cases, interlocutors do not see each other’s first reactions, and they can think carefully before responding). Many people tend to spend more time in the digital world. The increasing popularity of Facebook, as well as other social networks, suggests that people prefer meeting people online and developing online relationships. Some people argue that this can lead to people’s inability to communicate face-to-face in the real world. They stress that the digital world is not real and people have to spend more time in the real world to be able to be effective members of the society (have families and friends, have jobs, and so on). These people share their concerns that people will simply stop developing proper relationships with people around them, and society of individualistic people will appear.
At the same time, this trend can also be seen as people’s chance to acquire certain skills that will enable them to develop effective patterns in face-to-face communication. People communicating online often become more open and ready to contact others (though some people do not overcome their shyness and still prefer online communication to face-to-face interactions). Thus, meeting people online and communicating with them also means the development of certain communication patterns. Importantly, people relying on CMC develop and/or enter a specific speech community, which can be their way to develop communicative patterns in face-to-face communication. Admittedly, people who understand that they have something in common with their interlocutors feel more comfortable and confident. When they start talking, they often use specific codes that are common for certain speech communities. People understand they pertain to the same group and become more confident and eager to talk. Therefore, it is possible to state that CMC has a positive impact on people’s interpersonal communication in many cases. At this point, it is important to add that those who abuse CMC do not benefit from it as they do not want to (or do not have time to) communicate face-to-face.
It is also believed that CMC is less complex than face-to-face communication, as it mainly consists of verbal messages. Opponents of CMC claim that emotions play an important role in people’s communication and CMC has no room for emotions. Wood (2012, p. 171) claims that emotions are people’s “experience and interpretation of internal sensations” and they are essential for effective interpersonal communication. This is especially true between people pertaining to the same cultural background as they share similar codes and often express similar emotions on particular events, objects, concepts, and so on. Therefore, CMC is seen as less humane and as very different from face-to-face communication. Nonetheless, it has been acknowledged that CMC has become as complex as face-to-face communication as interlocutors see each other and decode each other’s paralanguage and body language (Wood, 2012). People can also use emoticons and different types of data, which can also be seen as paralanguage or a certain type of dress.
For instance, when communicating with the help of such tool as Facebook, people reveal their personalities through words and comments, avatars and pictures or other files (music, news) they post or share. Communication becomes full and, in some instances, it can be even more complex than face-to-face communication. Admittedly, when two people meet, they have only a little information before they start communicating. They can simply understand something about their interlocutors’ personality through analysis of their dress and style. However, when it comes to CMC (for instance, Facebook), people can look through some information about the person: the music he/she likes or dislikes, his/her perception of self (through avatar), comments on some events and so on. Hence, the person gets more information about people prior to communication. In the view of the mentioned above, it is possible to note that CMC is not all negative in interpersonal communication and can help people reveal their personalities and develop appropriate communication patterns (provided, it is not abused).
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It is necessary to note that in the sphere of intercultural communication, computer-mediated communication has been seen as effective and beneficial. It has been acknowledged that societies of the developed countries have become highly diverse in many respects. People with different backgrounds have to interact and develop proper relationships. It turns out that CMC can be seen as an effective platform for the development of communication patterns (Mustafa, Hamid, Ahmad & Siarap, 2012). Numerous surveys show that people pertaining to different cultures develop more effective communicative patterns with the help of CMC while they often fail to communicate effectively face-to-face. It is possible to explain this trend with the help of such a concept as a culture. Clearly, people pertaining to one culture have similar codes and can easily find common topics to discuss. Components of cultural patterns as defined by Lustig and Koester (2012) can be seen as the links people pertaining to one culture easily find. These components are values, beliefs, norms as well as social practices (Lustig & Koester, 2012). Face-to-face communication enables people use all of these components to the fullest. Even an expression of emotion is a particular signal that is easily decoded, making communication easy and effective.
However, when it comes to people pertaining to different cultural backgrounds, face-to-face communication is often associated with a number of challenges. People are often unaware of codes and meanings existing in different cultures. Thus, excessive friendliness of Americans (hugs, or even shaking hands in some cases) can be seen by Asians as rudeness and inappropriate behaviour. Another example is the look of a western teenage girl pertaining to some subculture and wearing a short skirt can be seen as inappropriate for Muslims as well as other religious groups (Christians and so on). Clearly, these non-verbal codes can make face-to-face communication absolutely impossible. It can also be difficult for people of different cultural backgrounds to communicate face-to-face, as they will have to decode so many signals that appear during verbal and non-verbal communication as even a gesture can have certain meaning. Besides, linguistic issues can also interfere. A misunderstood phrase and inability or unwillingness to clear everything out can make communication ineffective. This all leads to misunderstanding and ineffective or no communication.
Computer mediated communication enables people to avoid many issues associated with intercultural communication. Mustafa et al. (2012) stress that CMC has more options for people and is more favourable for communication of people pertaining to different cultures. Thus, people may first focus on verbal communication only. At that, linguistic issues can be solved with the help of dictionaries available during communication. Thus, people can quickly look up words when communicating with others online (especially when it comes to social networks or even instant messaging). People usually learn about the person as well as some of his/her cultural peculiarities step by step. People share their views and ideas on numerous things and get to know each other (as well as cultures of each other better). After CMC, people can start face-to-face communication, which will be more effective as people have already developed certain communication patterns and can rely on them. Even though there can be some misunderstanding, people will be eager to overcome it and forgive some mistakes as they have already developed certain relationship and are more tolerant towards each other.
Therefore, it is possible to note that both face-to-face as well as CMC have to be seen as two different but important channels of communication in the modern globalised world. When it comes to interpersonal communication, the benefits are not as vivid, though CMC can be beneficial for people who lack confidence to practice and develop proper communication patterns. CMC is especially important for people who start intercultural communication. CMC can be regarded as the necessary practice prior to face-to-face communication. In other words, a business person, who wants (or needs) to start communicating with a person pertaining to a particular culture, can first implement a research about the culture and find a person having the necessary cultural background to communicate with. This communication will unveil many secrets of the culture and will enable the person to obtain the necessary skills in effective communication. It is important to note that this type of communication is especially beneficial for people living in diverse societies (the USA, Canada, the UK and so on). People can become more tolerant and able to develop effective face-to-face communication with other people.
It is also important to remember that these types of communication need further research, as there are still many gaps and under-researched benefits as well as hazards of CMC and face-to-face communication in interpersonal and intercultural communication. For instance, it is unclear where the line between appropriate and abusive use of CMC is. It is also unknown to what extent CMC can be beneficial or hazardous in interpersonal communication. Such social media as Skype pose even more confusion as they are very similar to face-to-face communication though they are still seen as CMC. It can be beneficial to develop specific patterns to teach people to communicate effectively with people pertaining to different cultures. People should consider including this into school curriculum as children and teenagers should be aware of that aspect of people’s lives. Of course, it is important to research both types of communication and their impact on people’s lives to be able to come up with efficient educational strategies.
In conclusion, it is possible to note that interpersonal and intercultural communication can benefit from a combination of CMC and face-to-face communication. It has been acknowledged that CMC has certain benefits and significant downsides when it comes to interpersonal communication and it is somewhat inferior to face-to-face communication. Nonetheless, when it comes to intercultural communication, CMC is more effective than face-to-face communication in many cases. People do not have to decode numerous signals coming during verbal and non-verbal communication or can accumulate knowledge on these signals when using CMC.
People acquire communication skills and, at the same time, are safe from the burden of misunderstanding. In other words, people obtain communicative skills in a more comfortable environment at the comfortable pace. These new skills can be used in face-to-face communication. It is clear that both CMC and face-to-face communication can be used in different settings and facilitate each other. It is also obvious that people need to know more about each type of communication to be able to employ them to the fullest.
Chen, G.M. (2012). The impact of new media on intercultural communication in global context. China Media Research, 8(2), 1-10.
Dimbleby, R., & Burton, G. (2007). More than words: An introduction to communication. New York, NY: Routledge.
Lustig, M.W., & Koester, J. (2012). Intercultural competence: Interpersonal communication across cultures. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Mustafa, H., Hamid, H.A., Ahmad, J., Siarap, K. (2012). Intercultural relationship, prejudice and ethnocentrism in a computer-mediated communication (CMC): A time-series experiment. Asian Social Science, 8(3), 34-48.
Wood, J. (2012). Interpersonal communication: Everyday encounters. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.