Date of Award

Spring 2003

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Professional and Technical Communication - (M.S.)

Department

Humanities and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Burt Kimmelman

Second Advisor

Christopher T. Funkhouser

Third Advisor

Robert Edward Lynch

Abstract

The synchronous nature of chat and instant messaging (IM) make them unique among computer-enabled communications technologies in that their real-time exchange of data allows for rich media experiences, even though users can only use text symbols to trade messages. Chat and IM are also important in that they enable secondary orality, or the merger of the most beneficial aspects of orally-based cultures with the well-documented benefits of print and text. Where print in the modem day has fostered contemplative behavior and inward thought among human beings, chat and IM breathe vitality into print and, in a sense, allow print to be spoken. Chat and IM have provided well-documented benefits for business, academia and everyday human socialization. However, when the tools are used beyond these narrow contexts they not only lose their effectiveness; they also pose credible threats to society. Because chat and IM provide anonymity to their participants, the virtual communities they support are typically loosely governed, driven by stereotype, and replete with social deviance. Further, the more attractive online environments become, the less time and energy people will invest in the physical world, thereby threatening that the habitats of humans will ultimately wither and decay. Finally, as humans become less able to extricate themselves from their computer-enabled habitats, they will increasingly rely on the computer as a social prosthetic--if not evolve to the point where human beings and computers become indistinguishable.

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