T. Mark Kuba
CS 598 kgk
8 September 2004

The book Connections (Chap 4) by Sproull and Kiesler

The chapter begins by discussing how predictable the dynamics
of face-to-face meetings and group behavior are.  Less
predictable, however, are electronic group dynamics.  The
basis for this declaration comes from numerous controlled
experiments, because group behavior is hard to report
objectively.  Studies have shown that feelings of cohesiveness
and consensus do not necessarily reflect upon the group’s
effectiveness.

Face to face communications necessitate turn-taking, and there
is a requisite social hierarchy that determines who dominates
the discussion.  Electronic communication, however, had a more
egalitarian distribution, since turn-taking was not necessary.

One interesting note is the effect that electronic
communication seemed to have in regards to people’s emotions. 
There were many more rude comments in the electronic medium
than in the traditional face-to-face encounters.  Also, people
tend to take more extreme positions in electronic groups,
whereas in face to face encounters, people tend to make
compromises with the proposed solutions.

What I would find interesting is to document the behavior of
people who are anti-social on electronic media.  Everyone who
has spent some time on Usenet, for example, has seen at least
one example of someone whose sole reason for contributing to a
group discussion seems to be to generate a spate of flames (i.
e. a “troll”).  Would such anti-social behavior persist in the
face of face to face social consequences?

I feel that non-verbal cues which might be apparent in face to
face communications are obscured in electronic communication,
and can lead to a decreased quality in decisions.  For
example, someone in a group might make a suggestion that
nobody approves of.  In a normal meeting, this might be
obvious from the expressions of the participants, but such
cues are not available to participants in an electronic medium
until explicitly told, perhaps in harsh words.

Another aspect I would like to see is how big of an effect
self-esteem or ego can be in altering the group dynamics. 
People in a business organization, for example, usually are in
a hierarchy for a reason (i.e. the manager has more
experience, or has more training in dealing with larger
organizations).  In an electronic medium, where there is not
as much of a defined hierarchy, it seems to me that people can
“force” themselves to the top of the hierarchy by being louder
or more aggressive than other contributors in the group.  I
feel that these kinds of groups can be equally made to make
bad decisions, not because there is a social hierarchy where
the leader has more status, but because someone who may not be
as knowledgeable in an area can alter the decision based
solely on his or her passion.

Still, Sproull and Kiesler show findings that electronic
communication leads to better decisions.  People might be
riskier, but in general more people are sought for advice,
more alternative plans are considered, and faulty plans
promoted by those who have good social skills or status are
disregarded.
 
Electropolis by Elizabeth Reid

Reid starts out by saying that while linguists in the past
have neatly divided communication into verbal and written, due
to the “temporal and spatial” distance between the
participants, Internet Relay Chat, or IRC, does not fall
neatly into one category or the other.  I found it interesting
that Reid points out the social structures in place for
narrowing the strata of society that make up IRC participants.
 Today, I feel that some of those social structures are not as
strong, but participants are still mainly those in the first
world.

Reid goes on to discuss how IRC deconstructs traditional
boundaries of social interaction, and the strong underlying
effects of anonymity and reduced self-regulation.  People feel
free to experiment with alter-egos and different
personalities, even switching genders, something that is not
possible in face to face interaction without facing
significant taboo.  Users perhaps find this freedom of
identity to be a liberating experience.  Reduced self-
regulation mean that users are freer to express emotions to
strangers, something that would not likely occur in a face to
face interaction.  Examples include people who fall in love
over IRC, or those who antagonize others by use of name
calling or slurs.

Reid’s second section, on constructing communities, discusses
the ways in which IRC users circumvent the limitations of the
medium in order to express physical acts and nonverbal cues. 
She also discusses the social sanctions, including the unusual
level of guilt that IRC users sometimes feel, and the power
that ops hold over normal users.

I would have liked to have seen more exploration into the
social dynamic between ops and non-ops on IRC.  How do users
handle the pre-existing hierarchy, given that the Internet in
general values egalitarianism across the board?
 
Communication Systems: a comparison across a set of major axes
by K. Karahalios

A study of electronic communication over many different sets
of graphs.  Synchronicity, persistence, text vs. graphics,
one-to-one vs. one-to-many communication, moderation, private
vs. public, 2D vs. 3D, and abstraction are the different axes
produced to differentiate modern and pre-computer modes of
communication.  These axes provide a useful framework with
which to discuss communication and interactivity methods.