"Mode Effects in Multimodal Comment Threads: Technological Determinism Revisited"
Susan C. Herring & Bradford Demarest
November 9, 2011
12:30pm – 1:30pm
Wells Library 030, 1320 E. 10th Street, Bloomington IN
Voicethread.com is an interactive platform that allows commenting on multimodal slideshows in multiple modes—text, audio, or video—and displays all comments together in a single format. Such platforms raise questions about why, how, and to what effect users choose to participate in computer-mediated communication (CMC) in a given mode. In particular, the question arises as to whether “richer” modes such as video and audio are preferred for social communication and “leaner” text for more impersonal, contentious communication, as previous research has claimed (e.g., Daft & Lengel, 1984; Sproull & Kiesler, 1991). This talk will report on a recent study that investigates how participation and language use differ according to commenting mode and commenter gender in three extended public VoiceThreads. Text, audio, and video comments were analyzed for the frequency of metadiscourse terms that express social awareness and for the frequency and polarity of attitude categories. We found that video comments were made mostly by males, and male comments were more negative, consistent with previous research on gender and CMC. Mode differences were also found that provide support for the claims of early CMC theorists associating richer media with more social, interpersonal communication and text with critical judgment and negativity. These findings lead us to revisit claims in the literature that have previously been largely discredited, including technological determinism itself, and to suggest an alternative account that reconciles the VoiceThread findings with those of previous research (e.g., Walther, 1996) regarding the positive sociability of textual CMC.