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Boase+and+Wellman+2006 - Personal Relationships On and Off...

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Personal Relationships: On and Off the Internet 1 Jeffrey Boase and Barry Wellman From Computer-Mediated Small Groups to the Internet That the internet is a communication medium for personal relationships is obvious. That the nature of the internet affects the nature of personal relationships has often been proclaimed – recall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” – but less often proven. How might the internet have an impact? Early debates about computer mediated relationships began before the Internet. Research was dominated by lab experiments focusing on (a) how different types of computer mediated communication among dyads fit specific tasks and (b) how group norms determine the appropriateness of using different media in particular situations (see the review in Haythornthwaite & Wellman, 1998). Researchers examined whether the limited "social presence" of computer media (as compared to face-to-face contact) affected the media people choose to use, their perception of the messages they received, and their perception of the people who sent messages to them (see Kling, 1996; Sproull & Kiesler, 1991). For example, Daft and Lengel (1986) argued that people should choose rich media (e.g., face-to-face contact) over less rich media (e.g., impersonal written documents) when communicating equivocal or difficult messages. Researchers also found that users considered the lower social presence of email to be less appropriate for intellectually difficult or socially sensitive communications (Fish, Kraut, Root & Rice, 1992), and that the type of information exchanged affected the types of media used (Markus, Bikson, El-Shinnawy & Soe, 1992). This laboratory-based research often treated people as if they did not have positions in social systems and often assumed that they had free choice about which media to use. Reading this literature is to enter a world that pays scant attention to matters such as power, gender, socioeconomic status, norms, differential resources, or complex bundles of interactions and alliances (see also the critique in Walther, 1997) Although the internet has captured popular attention as a communication and information medium, a substantial body of research has only developed recently that 1 The citation for this paper is: Jeffrey Boase and Barry Wellman (2006) ʻ Personal Relationships: On and Off the Internet ʼʼ , The Cambridge Handbook of Personal Relationships, edited by Anita L. Vangelisti and Daniel Perlman, Cambridge, 709 — 723. The final published version of this paper is available for purchase at: http://www.cambridge.org/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=9780521533591&ss=toc
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2 places understanding of computer mediated communication in broader social contexts. Unlike the earlier lab experiments on dyads and small groups, internet research of personal relations has been principally based on surveys, interviews, and observations of how people use computer mediated communication in the context of their everyday lives.
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