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Types of Communicators and Their Internet Usage: Communicator Style and Willingness to Communicate in Relation to Computer-Mediated Communication

Karen Feilzer, Blake Snyder, and Ira Young

Communication Research Methods Professor Alan L. Sillars Fall 1998

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University life is becoming more and more familiar with the Internet as a means of satisfying communication and research needs. The Internet is attracting all types of people and addressing varied needs. Individuals have at their fingertips several avenues to explore on the Internet, examples of which include electronic mail, chat rooms, personal Web-sites, newsgroups, listserv groups, and usenets. The purpose of this research is to explore, in an academic setting, the different types of communication needs being met by the different types of users of the Internet and to determine the extent to which the Internet serves as a functional alternative for interpersonal communication needs. The term functional alternative refers to an alternative channel of communication that can satisfy similar communication needs. In addition, we examine characteristics of different types of users, including communicator style characteristics and un-willingness to communicate. These measures are employed to provide an indication of what types of communicators are using the Internet (and for what purposes) and their overall willingness (or reluctance) to communicate face-to-face (FtF hereafter).

Rationale The uses and gratifications theory of communication maintains that people communicate to “satisfy personal goals” (Katz et al., 1974). This approach, in relation to mass media research, argues that individuals are aware of their needs, evaluate various communication channels and content, and select the channel that they believe will provide the gratification that they are seeking (Perse and

3 Courtright, 1993). Uses and gratifications theory is relevant to this research, as it is argued that individuals use the Internet or computer-mediated communication (CMC hereafter) to satisfy personal needs and will continue to use this medium as long as it meets these “expectations.” Thomsen (1996) uses this theory in relation to Internet usage by probing the uses and gratifications associated with participation in PRForum (short for “Public Relations Forum”), a subscription-based newsgroup. Thomsen discovered that individuals meet certain needs (e.g., facilitating the exchange of information and advice) by participating in the newsgroup. As the Internet continues to explode in terms of usage and popularity, it is necessary to further research on CMC as a means of satisfying communication needs. As Mabrito (1995) points out in advocating the use of electronic mail (e-mail), projects using e-mail discussion groups provide students with a venue for class discussions and help students gain a better understanding of the nature of computer-mediated communication and of communicating within different organizational structures. Email serves a practical purpose; it is an effective way for students to communicate with their instructor and other students outside the confines of the classroom. Allen (1995) echoes this sentiment, stating that “[Employees] felt that the e-mail system had a positive impact on their work lives because it saved time, it kept them informed, and it helped them to feel more affiliated with the organization. It also allowed them to communicate directly with anyone else in the organization, regardless of hierarchical level”. Thomsen (1996) concluded that a frequently mentioned personal benefit for both student users as well as professionals was the ability to use the newsgroup to network for job leads or even to post job announcements. Yet another study argued that this relatively autonomous mode of work is often found among professionals, scholars, or academics who have to make multiple, often unexpected,

4 contacts with colleagues within and outside their...
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