October 1996

Root Page of Article: Feeling Between the Lines, by Joyce Menges

A Preliminary Definition

A survey of the communication research literature has revealed that during the late 1960's and early-to-mid 1970's there was an explosion of research and writing on the topic of nonverbal communication in face-to-face human contexts. It is not merely a hidden dimension or a silent language that has been uncovered by a new wave of scientific explorers; wrote Montagu and Matson (1979), it is more like a neglected universe of discourse and intercourse. We are becoming aware that the verbal domain is only the part of communicative expression--there is much much more to the human dialog than meets the ear. (p. xiii) Now, from Erving Goffman's early work in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959) to Nathan Joseph's more recent work Uniforms and Nonuniforms: Communication Through Clothing (1986), seemingly every conceivable angle from which one might view the topic has been explored. That is, of course, every angle but the present one.

For every primer written on the topic there has been a corresponding definition, theory and approach to the study of this phenomenon. In fact, the term itself has been the subject of considerable debate and reforming. We prefer the designation implicit communication to the commonly used misnomer, nonverbal communication, states Mehrabian (1981) as he grappled with his sense of dissatisfaction with the popular cultural term for something he described as the transmission of information about feelings and likes-dislikes or attitudes. (p. 3) Neither does nonverbal accurately describe these same things as they occur in cyberspace.

Certainly, since one definition characterizes verbal as being "of or in words" (Ehrlich, Flexner, Carruth & Hawkins, 1980, p. 770), electronic communication, which is almost entirely text-based, is verbal. Here too, nonverbal is a misnomer. For the purposes of this work, I use the term extraverbal communication to refer to the non-dialog devices employed in human communication in sychronous computer-mediated environments to reflect thoughts, feelings, and reactions. --

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