The section on chronemics in the reading about how “the rate of exchange is slower online” reminded me of something my friend mentioned to me. He is quite a regular user of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, but dislikes using instant messaging tools like MSN and Skype. According to him, he is pressured by instant messaging, especially when he is doing work – there is a sense of immediacy: He feels he has to respond quickly, because such tools are after all, instant, and the other party probably expects a reply immediately or at least within the next few minutes. This can be quite disruptive when one wants to focus on the task at hand. As for Facebook and Twitter, he is more comfortable with them because he can check and reply to it only when he wants to, and there is not as much pressure to reply quickly. So, with introduction of new technology, the rate of exchange of information online may not be as slow as we think. There are different norms of response time across different mediums (online vs offline), but even within CMC itself there are differences: email vs social media vs instant messaging (from slow to fast). This was something I never really thought about in detail…

Which medium the sender chooses also conveys the hidden message of “how fast I expect you to reply”. In the past where there are limited channels of communication, we call up a person for both pressing matters and a leisurely chat alike (and perhaps call back later when no one picks up). But with the variety of options available today, the sender usually expects the person to pick up his/her mobile phone – we get slightly irritated when they don’t because it’s urgent. It works the other way as well, at least for casual acquaintances. The receiver might find it strange if you called up just to ask about something not urgent – SMSing seems more appropriate. So I suppose it’s the same for CMC: the channel we pick indicates how fast we want a reply. Instant messaging for something urgent, whereas when we want to ask a friend if he’d be free to meet up next week, we would post on their Facebook wall instead. In fact, email has become somewhat a ‘formal’ way of communication – more task-oriented. We (at least for me) seldom use email to keep in touch with friends unless when we expect to converse at length. Social networking sites and instant messaging feels friendlier.

Also, one thing I don’t like about CMC is the lack of facial expressions. Sure, there are emoticons to help, but they seem so fake and limited compared to the millions of interesting expressions we can actually make by scrunching up our faces in different ways. Typing punctuation marks when you’re really pissed off is not quite as satisfying as actually glaring at the guilty person (besides smashing your keyboard of course). When we type that “WTH” or that “ROFL” we usually aren’t actually exclaiming loudly or rolling on the floor. So I believe over time, avid users of CMC may actually become less expressive? (with regards to the face.) I have a friend who is such a user, and he actually says the three letters l-o-l when he finds something funny (while maintaining a totally straight face), and I find that immensely annoying at times. Like, hello..you’re not online now. Could you actually laugh for once? I find the idea of actually forgetting how to make facial expressions due to prolonged use of CMC quite disturbing – assuming it is possible of course…just a hypothetical thought.