January 1997

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What is CMC? An Overview of Scholarly Definitions

by Pixy Ferris

Computer-mediated communication (CMC) is a relatively new area of study, but as computers have become an integral part of society, spanning education, industry and government, the field is growing significantly. The lowered costs of and easier access to computer technologies has increased the number of users. This in turn is accompanied by a rapid growth of scholarly study of CMC. Because CMC scholarship spans many fields, and because of its rapid and continuing development, there is a variety of CMC terminology. This essay attempts a brief review of common scholarly definitions of CMC.

In general, the term computer-mediated communication refers to both task-related and interpersonal communication conducted by computer. This includes communication both to and through a personal or a mainframe computer, and is generally understood to include asynchronous communication via email or through use of an electronic bulletin board; synchronous communication such as "chatting" or through the use of group software; and information manipulation, retrieval and storage through computers and electronic databases.

However, as Santoro (1995) points out,
"at its broadest, CMC can encompass virtually all computer uses... (including) such diverse applications as statistical analysis programs, remote-sensing systems, and financial modelling programs all fit within the concept of human communication." (p. 11). [Brackets mine].
[]December similarly defines CMC as encompassing many computer and telecommunications uses, but cautions that definitions don't prove theories.

Because of the extremely broad range of CMC, the focus of this article is on scholarly definitions of specific ^applications of CMC.


Sharmila Pixy Ferris ( (Ph.D., Penn State 1995) is an Assistant Professor at William Paterson College in Wayne, New Jersey. She has been interesetd in CMC research for the past decade and has published and presented papers on CMC-related areas including gender, culture, and applications involving pedagogy.

Copyright © 1997 by Pixy Ferris. All Rights Reserved.

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