January 1997

Root Page of Article: Notes on Defining of Computer-Mediated Communication, by John December

CMC Is Situated in a Human Context

Imagine trying to escape the world itself. Where would you go? Just as you can't stop communicating, there's no place where you could go without being somewhere. Similarly, all acts themselves are situated in a social context.

CMC just doesn't well up out of nowhere. Many people commit an anthropomorphic fallacy when they view "the computer" as somehow generating or making meaning. There are those who even believe that fiction somehow has been or will be created by a computer, glossing over the fact that the manipulation of symbols by a computer is always under the direction of human beings. No computer in the history of the world has or ever will play chess or write fiction--it is always the mind of a programmer or a team of programmers humming inside the software that makes up any computer-mediated manipulation of symbols. A chess-playing computer or software-generated drivel called "fiction," to me, is as profound as a toaster.

What excites me are the human imaginations and relationships surrounding CMC. Like an organ in a body, I don't believe a particular act of CMC can be understood without considering the social systems in which it takes place. You can put people in rooms and have them communicate via electronic messaging under a variety of conditions, but I don't think you'll find out anything particularly profound about this kind of communication isolated from a use context. ^

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