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COM 655 The Mediated Self and Changing Relationships

Note: the following is representative information for example purposes and is subject to change as course and student needs change over time.

Course Description

This class investigates how specific digital and mediated platforms affect our understanding of essential interpersonal constructs such as relationship development and engagement, image management, the inevitable dialectical tensions of work-life balance, and the challenges and opportunities of creating private and public identities in a mediated landscape. In this class, students will study issues of identity by addressing how we compose our multiple and sometimes conflicting digital and media selves and how the presentation of our "work" self affects composition of our "private" self. This class seeks to address these essential questions by exploring the creation, development and negotiation of our multiple selves across a multitude of digital platforms.

Course Objectives

After completing this course, students are prepared to:

  • Describe how various theoretical conceptions of interpersonal communication inform our understanding of the mediated self and how we interact with others.
  • Synthesize research addressing how computer mediated forms of communication shape expectations about relationships, identity, self-representation, media usage, and disclosure.
  • Identify, explain, and evaluate key issues surrounding particular media usage and communication constructs.
  • Create an original project designed to enhance digital and media literacy.

Topics of Study

The Mediated Self in Interpersonal Communication

Questions to Consider

  • What factors impact our self-concept?
  • According to Schutz, how does self-esteem interact with three interpersonal needs?
  • How might uncertainty reduction theory help explain why we (want to) form relationships with robots?
  • Briefly summarize our three face needs.
  • Why do we form relationships?
  • What are some possible costs of engaging in social relationships?
  • List the common theories that help us better understand whom we choose to form a relationship with.
  • How does the social exchange theory explain relationship formation and maintenance?
  • List and briefly define the characteristics of friendship.
  • Explain the life cycle of friendships.

After completing this topic of study, students are prepared to:

  • Describe key elements and processes of interpersonal communication.
  • Identify (mediated) communication situations that challenge and/or expand common interpersonal constructs.

Communicating in the 21st Century--Computer Mediated Communication (CMC)

Questions to Consider

  • Many people in this forum have sought to explain why people might be behaving "badly" online. Using the Cues-Filtered Out Theory, "Lack of Social Context Clues," (Walther, Ch. 14), explain why people might be behaving 'badly" online using terminology and presuppositions specific to this theory.
  • Using the Cues-Filtered Out Theory, "Signaling Theory," explain why being "catfished" shouldn't be a surprise to viewers of this show.
  • According to the Experiential and Perceptual Theory, "Social Influence Theory," (Walther, Ch. 14), how we orient ourselves to media is socially constructed based on our interactions with others in our social networks (i.e., organizations, relational dyads, etc.). Choose a current relationship (friendship, romantic, organizational) and explain which media are preferred for particular tasks/ends/goals? Which media are rejected for particular tasks/ends/goals? How specifically are these perceptions socially constructed in your relationship?
  • According to the Experiential and Perceptual Theory, "Channel Expansion Theory" (Walther, Ch. 14), the more experiences we have with a particular communication medium (i.e., telephone, email, Facebook, etc.), the more "rich" the medium becomes. Think of an example in which more exposure to a particular medium did not necessarily lead to more effective encoding and decoding? Why do you believe this was the case?
  • Based on your experiences, which medium of communication might be most effective in addressing each of the five dimensions of relational maintenance behaviors (Wright & Webb, Ch. 6)? Positivity? Openness? Assurances? Sharing tasks? Networks? For each dimension, identify and briefly explain the medium choice you believe might be most effective.
  • According to the chapter, "CMC and the Conceptualization of Friendship" (Wright & Webb, Ch. 12), "individuals in more intimate relationships reported using a wider variety of channels to communicate with their long-distance friends" (p. 236). Why might this be the case? Which theory or theories from Walther (Ch. 14) might further explain this claim? Why?

After completing this topic of study, students are prepared to:

  • Compare and contrast communication theories addressing computer-mediated communication.
  • Describe factors that may impact CMC user expectations and choices.

Examining the Collaborative Self in the Mediated World

Questions to Consider

  • What does Turkle mean when she says our machine dream is to never be alone but always be in control?
  • What does Turkle mean when she says mobile life has made each of us "pauseable"?
  • Most public service campaigns (warning, the link includes graphic violence) addressing the dangers of texting are designed to make us stop texting while driving. Given what you have read in Turkle, why might this approach to get people to stop texting and driving be futile? Given what Turkle says about our need to communicate, what would be a better approach to addressing this issue? Why?
  • Turkle claims that "separation" is being re-invented in the digital world? What does she mean? What does separation now mean?

After completing this topic of study, students are prepared to:

  • Illustrate how mobile and social media shape notions of the self.
  • Discuss and evaluate ways in which mediated forms of communication impact how we can (and should) relate and respond to others amidst work-life tensions.

Theorizing about Medium Usage Motives and Self Presentation

Questions to Consider

  • Examine your account profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc.? Is the (re)presented person you? In what ways is your online (re)presentation of self who you really "are" and how much of your digital profiles are a fantasy of who you want to be? Please be specific in detailing how you have "edited" yourself.
  • Closely examine your last 9 Texts. What is conveyed? What is not conveyed in these texts? How have you been "reduced", if at all?
  • Why is the telephone, as a medium of communication, now shunned? List and explain the significant reasons as to why many of us avoid the telephone as a medium of communication.
  • What does McLuhan mean when he says the medium is the message?
  • What medium-specific etiquette do you expect for:
    • Telephone
    • Texting
    • IM
    • Email
  • Is it (in)appropriate to give bad news to someone (i.e., breaking up, inform someone of a death, etc.) over certain media? Why? Why not?
  • Is it (in)appropriate to give good news to someone (i.e., getting married, having children, new job, etc.) via certain media? Why? Why not?

After completing this topic of study, students are prepared to:

  • Describe why we choose to use certain mediums of communication.
  • Explain how medium choices affect (re) presentations of the self.

Managing Privacy in an Online World

After completing this topic of study, students are prepared to:

  • Describe the process of how and why we make decisions about how to manage privacy.
  • Identify and self-reflect on the factors that affect how you manage privacy via mediated communication.
  • Investigate and evaluate communication research addressing a chosen area of inquiry related to a mediated communication theory, concept or phenomenon.

Social Support in a Mediated World

Questions to Consider

  • List and briefly explain the dimensions of CMC that may be particularly relevant to understanding computer-mediated social support?
  • There are major interpersonal benefits and limitations of computer mediated social support. List the major disadvantages?
  • Is the notion of a "stranger" medium specific? For example, might a stranger in FtF communication be defined differently than the notion of a stranger in a chat room? How might particular media call forth differing characteristics of a "stranger?"

After completing this topic of study, students are prepared to:

  • Identify advantages and disadvantages of online social support.
  • Compare and contrast off-and-online social support.

Enhancing Digital and Media Literacy in the 21st Century

Questions to Consider

  • How can these two seemingly paradoxical statements both be true: Technological connection reduces anxiety and Technological connection creates anxiety? Please provide examples of each statement. What, in particular, are we so scared about?
  • What does our cell phone represent (symbolically)?
  • Why, according to Turkle, did our "anxieties of disconnection" begin on September 11, 2001?
  • What does the "anxiety of always" mean?
  • Explain the connection between nostalgia and attention?

After completing this topic of study, students are prepared to:

  • Make sense of how mediated communication impacts how we think, communicate, and act on and offline.
  • Enhance digital and media literacy competencies by creating a Digital and Media Literacy Project and reviewing peers' projects.

Note: the following is representative information for example purposes and is subject to change as course and student needs change over time.