January 1997


What Are We Talking About?

by John December

If I use terms you don't know or speak in a language you cannot comprehend, you won't be able to understand me.

So it makes sense to set some terms straight. On the start of this magazine's fourth volume, in the thirty-third issue after its founding in May 1994, I guess it is about time to figure out what the term computer-mediated communication means.

The term CMC certainly didn't originate with this magazine; in fact, the term had been used so widely among researchers by 1994 that I took it for granted that a magazine with the same name would easily capture the interest of people interested in online communication.

But in my call for contributors to this issue, I asked for more perspectives on the definition of CMC, and I am glad to present to you the articles I received that raise interesting ideas.

[] Pixy Ferris provides an overview of some of the terms that have developed over decades of work in studying computer-mediated communication. She untangles some terminology and identifies the major areas of CMC applications that researchers today examine.

Both [] Jennifer Gold and [] Néstor Trillo raise issues about broadening what we mean by CMC. Gold identifies how CMC must augment the needs of the disabled. Trillo cautions that researchers also have to broaden their cultural assumptions in communicating via computer.

Both [] Peter Murray and I urge researchers to conceive of CMC as a range of different forms, rather than as a single entity serving one purpose. Murray applies Wittgenstein's ideas of family resemblance to the definition of CMC. [] I sketch out some ideas toward defining CMC in terms of a framework that explicitly identify people and contexts as key compontents.

Finally, [] Richard Thieme explores the fate of the engineer's dreams--the infrastructure that creates cyberspace--and how the technology used in computer-mediated communication may become so routine as to become invisible.

This isn't the last word on the definition of CMC. If this issue sparks some of your own ideas and arguments with what we present here, write to me, as I'd like to have another future issue focus on this same question.

John December ( is Editor of CMC Magazine.

Copyright © 1997 by John December. All Rights Reserved.

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