Communication Technology (Series in Communication Technology and Society)

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9780029271209: Communication Technology (Series in Communication Technology and Society)

The Series in Communication Technology and Society is an integrated series centering on the social aspects of communication technology. Written by outstanding communications specialists, it is designed to provide a much-needed interdisciplinary approach to the study of this rapidly changing field.
The industrial nations of the world have become Information Societies. Advanced technologies have created a communication revolution, and the individual, through the advent of computers, has become an active participant in this process. The "human" aspect, therefore, is as important as technologically advanced media systems in understanding communication technology. The flagship book in the Series in Communication Technology and Society, Communication Technology introduces the history and uses of the new technologies and examines basic issues posed by interactive media in areas that affect intellectual, organization, and social life. Author and series co-editor Everett M. Rogers defines the field of communication technology with its major implications for researchers, students, and practitioners in an age of ever more advanced information exchange.
CONTENTS
The Changing Nature of Human Communication
What Are the New Communication Technologies?
History of Communication Science
Adoption and Implementation of Communication Technologies
Social Impacts of Communication Technologies
New Theory
New Research Methods
Applications of the New Communication Technologies

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About the Author:

Everett M. Rogers is Walter H. Annenberg Professor of Communications and Associate Dean at the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California. His other works include Diffusion of Innovations and Communication Networks.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

The Changing Nature of Human Communication

"Technological change has placed communication in the front lines of a social revolution."

William Paisley, 1985

The word technology comes from the Latin root texere, to weave or to construct. So technology should not be limited just to the use of machines, although this narrower meaning is often implied in everyday speech. Technology is a design for instrumental action that reduces the uncertainty in the cause-effect relationships involved in achieving a desired outcome (Rogers, 1983, p. 12). A technology usually has both a hardware aspect (consisting of material or physical objects) and a software aspect (consisting of the information base for the hardware). For instance, we distinguish between computer hardware (consisting of semiconductors, electrical connections, and the metal frame to protect these electrical components) and computer software (consisting of the coded instructions that enable us to use this tool). Both the software and hardware are essential for any practical use of the computer, but because the hardware technology is more visible to the casual observer, we often think of technology mainly in hardware terms. It is an oversimplification to think of technology as an autonomous, isolated force that is disconnected from the rest of society (Slack, 1984) In this book, we stress the context of the new technologies of study.

One kind of technology -- communication technology -- is especially important in modern societies such as the United States. Communication technology is the hardware equipment, organizational structures, and social values by which individuals collect, process, and exchange information with other individuals. Certain communication technologies go back to the beginnings of human history, such as the invention of spoken language and such written forms as the pictographs on the walls of caves. Mass media technologies (with at least the potential for reaching a mass audience) date from the clay tablets of such early civilizations as the Sumerians and Egyptians. But technologies such as Gutenberg's movable-type printing press did not actually reach a mass audience until the 1830s, with the advent of the "penny press" in the United States. In the decades that followed, such electronic media technologies as film, radio, and television became important. These mass media technologies are mainly unidirectional, allowing one or a few individuals to convey a message to an audience of many. During the 1980s, a different kind of communication technology became important, and it facilitated the exchange of information on a many-to-many basis through computer-based communication systems. Whether you call it "the new communication technologies," "the new media," or "interactive communication," it is obvious that a very basic change is occurring in human communication.

All communication technology extends the human senses of touching, smelling, tasting, and (especially) hearing and seeing. Such extensions allow an individual to reach out in space and time, and thus obtain information that would not otherwise be available (McLuhan, 1965). Media technologies provide us with "a window to the world," and as a result we know more about distant events than we could ever experience directly.

Nature of the New Communication Technologies

The key technology underlying all the other new communication technologies is electronics. Electronics technology these days allows us to build virtually any kind of communication device that one might wish, at a price (Pool, 1983a, p. 6). One special characteristic of the 1980s is the increased number and variety of new communication technologies that are becoming available. Further, and more important, is the nature of how these new. media function; most are for many-to-many information exchanges. Their interactive nature is made possible by a computer element that is contained in these new technologies. In fact, what marks the new communication technologies of the post-1980s era as special is not just the availability of such single new technologies as microcomputers and satellites, but the combining of these elements in entirely new types of communication systems -- for example, the use of satellites to deliver a wide variety of programming to cable television systems. Certain cable TV systems, such as Qube in Columbus, Ohio, are interactive (allowing household users to send, as well as receive, messages) because they utilize a computer at the head-end of the cable system.

Communication technology has had a very strong impact on the nature of scholarly research on human communication. The issues studied by communication scientists over the past forty years have been affected by the changing nature of communication (as we will show in Chapter 3). In the past, the basic division of the scholarly field of communication has been a dichotomy on the basis of channel: interpersonal channels, which involve a face-to-face exchange between two or more individuals, versus mass media channels, all those means of transmitting messages such as radio, television, newspapers, and so on, which enable a source of one or a few individuals to reach an audience of many. This classification is mainly on the basis of the size of the audience, with interpersonal channels reaching from one individual up to a small group of fifteen to twenty. Now, scholars (Dominick, 1983, p. 14) recognize a third category, "machine-assisted interpersonal communication," that has certain qualities of both mass media and interpersonal channels yet is different in several important ways from either one (Chapter 2). An example of such machine-assisted interpersonal communication is the telephone; it does not fit into either category of mass media or interpersonal channels because it is neither face-to-face nor one-to-many. Examples of newer communication technologies are: teleconferencing networks, electronic messaging systems, computer bulletin boards, and interactive cable television.

The new interactive technologies have been available only for several years, and they have not yet become very widely adopted in the United States. Their potential impact, however, is quite high. By 1985, about half of American households had cable television, although only a few cable systems were interactive. Less than 1 percent of American households have videotext or teletext. Over the past decade, 20 percent of households accepted video cassette recorders (VCRs); around 15 percent have at least one microcomputer, and in 1985 about 25 percent of the U.S. work force used computers as their primary work tool. From 1980 to 1985, about 95 percent of American elementary and high schools adopted computers, although less than 10 percent: of the students were enrolled in a class in which microcomputers were used. So the interactive communication technologies are off to a fast start. But just a start.

What is different about human communication as a result of the new technologies?

1. All of the new communication systems have at least a certain degree of interactivity, something like a two-person, face-to-face conversation. Interactivity is the capability of new communication systems (usually containing a computer as one component) to "talk back" to the user, almost like an individual participating in a conversation. The new media are interactive in a way that the older, one-to-many mass media could not be; the new media can potentially reach many more individuals than if they were just face-to-face, although their interactivity makes them more like interpersonal interaction. So the new media combine certain features of both mass media and interpersonal channels.

Interactivity is an inherent property of the communication process, not just of the communication technology itself, and is thus a unique communication concept (Rafaeli, 1984 and 1985). The exact degree to which computer-based communication can approach human interaction is an important question. One measurement of the ability of computers to think is the Turing test, in which a computer's intelligence is measured by its performance in responding to conversational questions in comparison to human performance in the same tasks. Obviously, not all computer communication is interactive; in fact, not all human face-to-face communication behavior is interactive if interactivity means a two -- way exchange of utterances in which the third remark in a series is influenced by the bearing of the second on the first. Sheizaf Rafaeli (1984) poses this interesting illustration of a three-message exchange: (1) a sign on a candy machine catches an individual's attention; (2) the individual inserts 35 cents in the machine: (3) the machine dispenses a candy bar. Are candy machines interactive communication media? No, because they are not "intelligent." The third response is not predicated on the bearing of the second exchange on the first. Here we see that not all two-way exchanges are necessarily interactive; automatic, mechanical reaction is not the same as mutual responsiveness. Human response implies listening, attentiveness, and intelligence in responding to a previous message exchange.

Interactivity is a desired quality of communication systems because such communication behavior is expected to be more accurate, more effective, and more satisfying to the participants in a communication process. These advantages usually come at the cost of more communication message exchanges and the greater time and effort required for the communication process (Rafaeli, 1984).

So the most distinctive single quality of the new media is their interactivity, indicating their basic change in the directionality of communication from the one-way, one-to-many flow of the print and electronic mass media of the past century. In interactive communication systems, the individual is active rather than completely passive or reactive.

2. The new media are also de-massified, to the degree that a special message can be exchanged with each individual in a large audience. Such individualization likens the new media to face-to-face interpersonal communication, except that they are not face-to-face. The high degree of de-massification of the new communication technologies means that they are, in this respect at least, the opposite of mass media. De-massification means that the control of mass communication systems usually moves from the message producer to the media consumer.

3. The new communication technologies are also asynchronous, meaning they have the capability for sending or receiving a message at a time convenient for an individual. For example, say that an electronic message is sent to you on a computer teleconferencing network; you may receive it on your home or office computer whenever you log-on. Unlike a telephone call, electronic messaging systems avoid the problem of "telephone tag," which occurs when you call someone who is unavailable, then when they return your call you are unavailable, etc. Only about 20 percent of business calls directly reach the individual being telephoned. In new communication systems, the participants do not need to be in communication at the same time. The asynchronicity of computer-based communication means that individuals can work at home on a computer network and thus make their workday more flexible. The new media often have the ability to overcome time as a variable affecting the communication process.

I have a friend who likes to watch the "CBS Evening News with Dan Rather," but he seldom gets home from work in time to see the broadcast. My friend is one of the 20 percent of American households who owned a video cassette recorder by the mid-1980s. So whenever he arrives on his doorstep, Dan Bather and the CBS evening News is waiting for him. This time-shifting ability of many of the new communication technologies is one aspect of asynchronicity. In addition to video cassette recorders, computer-based communication systems and several of the other new media have this time-shifting capacity.

Asynchronicity is part of the shift of control from the source to the receiver in a communication system; in this case the control of time is put in the hands of the receiving individual. With increasing frequency, this person can determine the most convenient time to receive a message. Automated teller machines (ATMs) allow one to bank in an asynchronous way; instead of being a slave to my banker's hours, I can now do my banking twenty-four hours a day. Such added convenience is an important reason for the widespread adoption of ATMs by the American public. Telephone-answering machines also provide this time-shifting and/or time-expanding ability to many.

There are other differences between the new communication technologies and their older counterparts of radio, television, and film; many of the differences stem indirectly from such fundamental distinctions as the interactivity, asynchronicity, and de-massification of the new media. The new media represent an expanded accessibility for individuals in the audience, with a wider range of alternative conduits by which information is transmitted and processed. Further, the format or the manner of display of information is changing (Compaine, 1981). Finally, compared to the one-way media, the contents of new communication technologies are more likely to be informational, rather than just entertainment.

Implications for Communication Research

The new communication technologies have elevated the field of communication research to a high level of importance in human society. Public and private policy issues swirl around the results of research being conducted on the new technologies: international competition and trade conflicts in high-technology; the transition from an Industrial Society to an Information Society; and growing concern with socioeconomic and gender inequalities, unemployment, and other social problems that result from the impacts of the new communication technologies.

Each of the three main characteristics of the new communication technologies has implications for the conduct of communication research (as we detail in Chapter 7):

1. The interactivity of the new media is made possible by computers, which provide new data and allow use of different data-gathering and analysis methodologies than in the past. The computer element in the new communications systems can retain a complete, word-for-word record of all communication messages in its memory. This record is available for analysis by communication scholars, who in the past have seldom had access to such a gold mine of data about human interaction.

2. The individualized, de-massified nature of the new media makes it almost impossible to investigate a new communication system's effects using the linear-effects paradigm followed in much past research on mass media communication, where a relatively standardized content of the media could be assumed (at least to the extent that the same messages were available to everyone in the audience). With the new media, message content becomes a variable; each individual may receive quite different information from an interactive communication system.

Consider the some 3,000 scholarly research publications on the effects of television violence on children. This inquiry has followed generally a linear, one-way model of...

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