Wednesday, 12 October 2016

To Speak Online

Word count: 390

Have you ever tried to communicate to someone only non-verbally? It is often very frustrating as you're just not understood. And even when they understand your non-verbal answer they'll still try and demand a verbal response. So why do many theorists of the quality of online communication think that the lack of non-verbal cues makes online communication a poor, and maybe detrimental substitute for face-to-face communication?

Let me introduce you to professor Joseph Walther who in 1992 came up with the Social Information Processing Theory. His theory is that people adapt to the restrictions of the online medium by looking for clues in the language people use as well as adapting their emotional and social expressions to the language they have available, although it might take longer (Griffin). Check out this great interview with him on Youtube. I found his thoughts and replies to be well thought out and admired his ability to not get herded somewhere he wasn't intending to go with his theory. He also, when asked about the danger of the internet, said that the internet is like a big city in it's content and diversity, and you should approach it with the same caution as you would a big city (Griffin). A very apt description.

As we more and more use online communication, also known as computer mediated communication (CMC), I believe that it is self evident that people are adapting to learn and create new ways to effectively communicate without the non-verbal component. And despite my earlier comments I do think non-verbal communication is very important, just not absolutely necessary. People are learning all sorts of ways to communicate effectively. There are emoticons as well as the various abbreviated messaging shortcuts, using more direct questions (Child, 118), and even just learning to construct really good sentences and thoughts. The written word has been with us for a long time, and I think it is good to see it evolving into importance again, although we may not always be comfortable with evolution's chosen direction.

Also, look into Walther's Hyperpersonal Model which "has changed the way communication theorists think about CMC" (Child, 119).


  • Child, Jeffrey, et al. Experience Communication. McGraw Hill Education, 2014.
  • Griffin, Em. "Joseph Walther on Social Information Processing Theory." YouTube, uploaded by A First Look at Communication Theory,29 January 2014,

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