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Computer Mediated Communication: Social Interaction and the Internet

Author: Crispin Thurlow, Laura Lengel, Alice Tomic
Publisher: Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2004
Review Published: November 2006

 REVIEW 1: Antonina Bambina
 REVIEW 2: Mark D. Johns
 REVIEW 3: Michele Willson
 REVIEW 4: Monica Whitty
 REVIEW 5: Gerhard Fuchs

The market is crying out for more text books on CMC (Computer Mediated Communication) and so Crispin Thurlow, Laura Lengel, and Alice Tomic's book is a welcome addition. Thurlow et al. provide a broad range of topics that would certainly interest students who are first introduced to the topic.

The book is set out in an engaging manner. Students are encouraged to consider discussion questions and are provided with useful web links. Each chapter presents clear, succinct definitions for basic terms. Moreover, stimulus readings and resources are provided for students who are keen to read further on the topic.

This book is divided into four sections. Strand 1 is titled "Learn: Basic Theory." The chapters in this section highlight some of the essential features of CMC. While the authors do not go into great depth and present very little empirical evidence, they do present some important theories, such as the utopian view of cyberspace, social presence theory, media richness theory, deindividuation, and the SIDE model.

Strand 2 is titled "Critique: Central Issues." Thurlow et al. begin this section by discussing the digital divide. They highlight that the United Nations have claimed that 4 billion people around the world will probably never get connected to the internet. Unit 2 of this section discusses online identity. Here they briefly discuss Sherry Turkle's work on identity and her belief that individuals often re-invent themselves online. They also talk about identity play in cyberspace. Unit 3 examines online communities. They question whether real communities can exist online. Unit 4 looks at language and the internet. Thurlow et al. consider the spread of languages on the internet. In this unit they also consider "netspeak," or the way in which people talk online. This is obviously very different to the way individuals converse face-to-face or on the telephone. As the authors point out, individuals have been very creative with their "netlingo" and have tried to find ways to reinstate social cues. Unit 5 of this strand considers women and the internet. Thurlow et al. argue that computerization is highly gender-stereotyped. They consider gender online in respect to gaming, chat, and cyber-harassment. Unit 6 considers topics I have been keenly interested in researching the last seven years, that of internet relationships, cybersex, and cyberporn. The authors report some of the descriptive statistics the late Al Cooper and his colleagues revealed about online sexual activities. For example, and perhaps unsurprisingly, men are six times more likely than women to engage in cyber-sexual activities. Moreover, men more than women prefer to view erotic images online. The final unit of this section looks at antisocial online behaviour. In this unit, the authors consider internet addiction and whether it actually exists.

Strand 3 of this book sets out basic tasks that students might like to engage in. In this section, Thurlow et al. remind students that they need to acknowledge other people's work online and should not be tempted to plagiarize. They also suggest that students collaborate with other students unknown to them online. This can obviously be very time consuming for educators to organize and I would only recommend that they try out this task at least once to become familiar with the pros and cons of online education. The authors also suggest that students create their own webpage and delineate a couple of points to get students started on such a task. Thurlow et al. also suggest that students should participate in at least one public chat room and to make notes of their online communication experience. They also believe that students should have the experience of a "metaworld" and should try out designing an avatar for themselves.

The final strand of the book provides nine thematic snapshots of topics for students to consider for research projects. The topics are outlined very briefly and include political, legal, organizational, health, lifespan, instructional, and visual communication in CMC, as well as new media developments in CMC.

Computer Mediated Communication: Social Interaction and the Internet would appeal to first year students in media studies, as either a textbook or as supplementary material. It only presents the basics and does not discuss theory or empirical research in depth; hence, it is probably most useful as an introduction to the field. Nonetheless, it is written in an engaging and non-intimidating manner, which I'm sure media studies students would enjoy. It is noteworthy to point out that a book of this kind can date quickly and in fact it already has to some degree. At this point, however, it has sufficiently current material as an introductory text.

Monica Whitty:
Monica Whitty is a lecturer at Queen's University Belfast in Northern Ireland. She is the co-author of Cyberspace Romance: The Psychology of Online Relationships. Her current research interests include: Internet relationships, online dating, misrepresentation of self online, cyberflirting, internet infidelity, cyber-harassment, and virtual ethics.  <m.whitty@Queens-Belfast.AC.UK>

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