04 | How do we communicate online? part 2

In my last entry I was examining about the paper “Computer-Mediated Communication: Impersonal, Interpersonal, and Hyperpersonal Interaction” of Joseph B. Walther from 1996. In this second entry about it, I want to focus on the hyperpersonal interaction. Nowadays the research of Walther is the origin of the “hyperpersonal model” which basically suggests that CMC (computer-mediated communication) can transform our face-to-face based interpersonal relationships or even surpass them. But why should a relationship without the ability to see or hear someone be more intimate than interacting in real life? 

The hyperpersonal model is based on the classic communication elements: Sender, receiver, channel and feedback. Walther is examining about what happens to each of these elements if the communication happens computer mediated instead of FtF (= face to face).

  1. The receiver: Idealized perception

Because of the lack of social context cues communication receivers tend to search for every subtle social context or personality cue they can find and give them a particular great value – even an “over attribution”. The results are stereotypical impressions built on merger or rather unqualified information cues like misspellings or overdone punctuation (!!!). If the communication partners already know each other, they may already know the paralinguistic expressions and can decode them. And if the receiver likes the sender or even only got a positive impression of her/him in advance (e.g. checking a social media profile or hearing a positive reputation = “I could like her/him, she/he is like me”), the impression or decoding of the received message will be positively affected. In this case the receiver has no interfering or disproving nonverbal cues what leads to a strong idealisation of the sender and their attraction. 

2. The sender: Selective (and optimised) self-presentation

People tend to present themselves as optimal in order to be liked and accepted by others. Asynchronous CMC has many opportunities for self-optimization: Senders can reread, correct and optimise their messages and everything else they send out (like social media posts) to an unlimited extent. With that opportunity senders are able to show themselves in their desired manner and “censor” every unliked or unsuitable characteristic. Selective self-presentation is a natural FtF phenomenon (like preparing for a job interview or dating someone) but the opportunities of CMC enhance it in an already supernormal way. I think most of us know that in terms of social media this can have negative effects like for example presenting oneself as somebody else – maybe even someone more optimal. But thinking of communication only, this can be also a chance for the sender: Filtering everything unnecessarily out and focusing on the message and its expression. 

3. The channel

As mentioned the channels of asynchronous CMC gives the communication participants favourable opportunities to communicate and present themselves in the way they like. For Walther it is incorrect to try to make the CMC experience feel or adjust like FtF interaction because this is not possible to the full extent. The users should rather use CMC for its own advantages. The cognitive load during a FtF interaction is a lot higher than in CMC: It requires a higher level of psychic, sensory and emotional involvement. From this perspective asynchronous CMC leads to more conversational relaxation and a better focus of mental energy on the messages’ content. 

4. The feedback: Intensification loop

The examination of  the last element is for me the most interesting because I was not aware of the following argument. Feedback in the communication interaction is crucial for developing a relationship. In point 1 “the receiver” we saw that the users of CMC tend to magnify every minimal cues they can find, what is also valuable in terms of feedback. In combination with behavioural confirmation (having personal expectations from others and acting in a certain way in order to make them confirm them) this leads to an intensified feedback loop. The involved self-optimisation then leads to a positively enhanced picture of the other communication participant. In other words: By self-optimising our own messages we make our communication partner feedback something positive which then leads again to a positive answer from us. Over a long time, this loop eventually intensifies the relationship.

In order to enhance my research to more recent findings I include Walther’s recent viewpoint of the hyperpersonal model. If you are interested in this topics I recommend watching the following talk from the year 2018:

Computer-Mediated Communication and Hyperpersonal Interaction (2018), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQEHU5ryPfQ

In the video Walther brings up some studies he did in the past. The insight I gained from one of them is that by trying to convince someone via CMC one is also convincing yourself about that topic. With that in mind we could go on with that and argue that self-optimisation should result in an optimised picture about our self. Assuming this were indeed the case this could not lead to an intensification loop but an self-optimisation loop in terms of presenting yourself without any communication partner (like posting something on social media): You optimise your image online and then try to even perfect that – just because that is the picture you created about yourself beforehand. Would this mean that computer mediated communication not only “hyperpersonalizes” your interpersonal relationships & communication but also enables you to transform into the person you aiming to be? Would this self-optimisation loop be endless and therefore become a disappointing and energy consuming delusion? 

https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199756841/obo-9780199756841-0160.xml#:~:text=Computer%2Dmediated%20communication%20(CMC),%2C%20and%2For%20video%20messages (last review: 02.05.2021)
– Joseph B. Walther: “Computer-Mediated Communication: Impersonal, Interpersonal, and Hyperpersonal Interaction”, 1996, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/009365096023001001
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQEHU5ryPfQ, 2018 (last review: 02.05.2021)