The Changes of Computer Mediated Communication after the 1990s
One of the most nostalgic feelings of growing up in the 1990s is the feeling of being around when the Internet became widely accessible to the general public. The 90s generation grew up with the ability to connect with people across the world with a click of a few buttons and a computer with Internet connection. Classes in elementary school had to change from children learning cursive, to having the children learning to type on the computers. Parents had to learn how to parent their children on a completely different level because of how new and different computers were making the lives of 90s children. This new medium of communication has changed the way that we, as humans, communicate with one another both through computers as well as face to face. As Howard Rheingold said in 1993, “People in virtual communities use words on screens to exchange pleasantries and argue, engage in intellectual discourse, conduct commerce, exchange knowledge, share emotional support, make plans, brainstorm, gossip, feud, fall in love, find friends and lose them, play games, flirt, create a little high art and a lot of idle talk (Rheingold ).” With the accessibility of the Internet through computers, we have the ability to be influenced by cultures previously unfathomable, we use features available through technology to communicate with one another differently than face to face communication, and we interact to new modes of communication through that technology.
In the beginning of the Internet, the most commonly used language for Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) was English. However, as more of the world began to use the Internet and have access to computers, the use of English began to be integrated into the way other language-speakers communicated with each other over the Internet. We could still make the argument that English is the most commonly used language to communicate over the Internet when speaking with another who does not speak the same language. But we also see that those who do speak the same language will use their language for CMC. For example, one study found that normally spoken Arabic and even Greek used the Roman alphabet when users communicated online (Danet and Herring). This use of English through CMC has even evolved to change how people communicate in their daily lives. The article by Danet and Herring describes another situation where medical students in Switzerland who all speak different European languages were having problems communicating with one another effectively. They reported that they had chosen a democratic solution to their dilemma as to which language to use online: English, which is no one’s native language (Danet and Herring). The students were able to communicate while working and learning because the Internet, something used by many students, had helped them understand a common language so they all did not have to learn more than one language to communicate effectively. While the Internet only helped aid this decision, the role of the English language in CMCs can be described as a unifying factor in an otherwise turbulent situation.
Our intimacy with our computers has not changed much since the 90s. Those who grew up in the television and cellular phone era were migrating to computers and the virtual CMC communities they provide. Even with our mobile hand held devices, people still have an intimate connection with their computers because of features not available with the smaller technology. In 2000, a book called The Cybercultures Reader explains that at both individual and collective (societal) levels, we have given our lives over to technology, entrusting computers in more ways than ever. The editors also suggest that we may find even more comfortable in virtual reality. Though the mobile phone has become popular and is more intimate than computers, computers still have a special place in our society because of their ability to do more. In his book, Rheingold explains how his life is torn between the online reality he knows, and his real life. “Not only do I inhabit my virtual communities; to the degree that I carry around their conversations in my head and begin to mix it up with them in real life, my virtual communities also inhabit my life (Rheingold).” The world that was known before the Internet is now more accessible and can create bonds that were previously inconceivable to the public. Letters and mail could take weeks to months depending on the departure and destination locations. With the Internet came the invention of Electronic Mail and the accessibility of other cultures and people became easier. However, with this transference of cultures and information, we quickly saw an issue over copyrights and ownership over media on the Internet.
Now that even more of the world has the ability to access the Internet, there would need to be someone taking charge and making sure that we used our new abilities correctly. There are hundreds of languages used on the Internet, and yet we will have some unfinished discussion surrounding the copyright laws and rights of the Internet. This is still an issue today with musicians fighting fans on the right to use or distribute copyrighted material over the Internet. File sharing can be helpful or harmful, but the action is easier than before the Internet came about. This is because the files do not travel directly to the other user, but stops at other computers on the way, keeping a copy on the hard drive (Tambini, Leonardi, Marsden). While some files are sharable and cause less harm than others, there can sometimes be intellectual ideas or property that can be stolen at an easier and quicker rate. Copyright issues are predominant and can cause harm to the individuals involved. With face to face communication, we may see less theft because there is the interpersonal communication happening between individuals which may get lost in CMC.
Humans have figured out a way to cope with the void of facial expressions and body cues. The terminology as well as the image have changed since the first introduction of characters arranged through text to create faces. Although first appearing in the late 90s the traditional emoticon has transformed into what is today called the “emoji.” With the creation of emoticons to represent faces where there are none is another way that humans communicate differently through electronic means. When we communicate through digital text we miss out on intonation, facial expressions and gestures. Emojis help assist users to communicate more effectively than just using basic text. This addition gives us humans as association between informal text, and formal expressions/gestures. For humans to determine trustworthiness, facial expressions are critical. The emoji assists our communication by adding a face, or a symbol which can describe a facial expression (Babin).
The increased accessibility of computers and the use of the Internet has forever changed the world before such technological advancements. The hope is for us to keep innovating and creating a brighter future which we can use the experiences of the past to bolster our ideas for the future. By having the ability to communicate with people who live hours or even a day before us we have access to cultures, ideas, and people we would never have imagined before the introduction of the Internet to the general public. We see communication differently now because of the accessibility and easy diffusion of languages, even though English is most commonly seen during the 90s as the “main” communication method. Our laws protecting intellectual property have also been affected by the Internet’s ability to spread, share, and copy information and files. And lastly, our world was reliant on face to face communication for so long that the transition to computer mediated communication had a few errors that we as humans had to work through to regain some humanity to technology. Although there had been a lot of growth since the 1990s in the technology field, we still have much to learn and correct about our technological society.
Babin, J. Jobu. “A Picture Is worth a Thousand Words: Emojis, Computer-Mediated Communication, and Trust.” SSRN Electronic Journal (2016): n. pag. Web.
Bell, David , and Barbara M. Kennedy, eds. The Cybercultures Reader. London : Routledge, 2000. Print.
Danet, Brenda, and Susan C. Herring. “The Multilingual Internet.” The Journal Of Computer Mediated-Communication 9.1 (2007): n. pag. Web.
Rheingold, Howard. The virtual community: homesteading on the electronic frontier. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co., 1993. Print.
Tambini, Damian, Danilo Leonardi, and Christopher T. Marsden. Codifying cyberspace: communications self-regulation in the age of internet convergence. London: Routledge, 2008. Print.