interactivity2 - Interactivity EXPLORING MODELS OF...

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Interactivity 1 EXPLORING MODELS OF INTERACTIVITY FROM MULTIPLE RESEARCH TRADITIONS: USERS, DOCUMENTS, AND SYSTEMS By Sally J. McMillan Assistant Professor University of Tennessee E-mail: [email protected] Phone: 865-974-5097 Address: 476 Communications Building Knoxville, TN 37996-0343 The author thanks Kyoungtae Nam for his research assistance on this chapter.
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Interactivity 2 INTRODUCTION Interactivity. We ‘know it when we see it,’ but what is it? When asked to define the term, many individuals – even scholars of new media – may feel stumped. Rafaeli (1988: 110) noted some of the common conceptions about interactivity in the mid-1980s: Interactivity is generally assumed to be a natural attribute of face-to-face conversation, but it has been proposed to occur in mediated communication settings as well. For example, interactivity is also one of the defining characteristics of two-way cable systems, electronic text systems, and some programming work as in interactive video games. Interactivity is present in the operation of traditional media, too. The phenomena of letters to the editor, talk shows on radio and television, listener participation in programs, and in programming are all characterized by interactivity. In the early 1990s, use of the term ‘interactivity’ exploded in the popular, trade, and scholarly press (McMillan, 1999). Researchers are actively engaged in scholarship that explores how people interact through media, the nature of interactive content, and how individuals interface with the computers and telecommunications tools that host interactive communication. Interactivity is generally considered to be a central characteristic of new media. But it is not enough to say that new media are interactive. It is important to understand what makes them interactive. It is also important to realize that interactivity means different things to different people in different contexts. Understanding interactivity can help practitioners create environments that facilitate interaction. Individuals who use new media can more effectively utilize interactivity if they understand it. And for scholars, understanding interactivity is central to developing theory and research about new media.
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Interactivity 3 This chapter begins with a brief overview of new media and basic definitions of interactivity in new media environments. Three traditions of interactivity research are identified: human-to-human interaction, human-to-documents interaction, and human-to-system interaction. Within each of these traditions, definitions of interactivity both before and after the evolution of new media are examined. Central characteristics of interactivity as identified in each of these three traditions are used to develop models that illustrate multiple types of interactivity. Finally, some suggestions are made for future study of interactivity.
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