Research Presentation: David Kistler

David Kistler
Dr. James Collier
English 4874
October 23, 2012

Computer Mediated Communication (Facebook) Preferred by College Students as a Means of Social Interaction (online).

Question: Has Facebook changed the social interaction preferences of college students from face-to-face communication to computer mediated communication?


Keywords: Computer Mediated Communication, Interpersonal Communication, Social Capital, Social Interaction, and Social Networking Sites.

Computer Mediated Communication (CMC): Is a form of communication that takes place between individuals online or through the use of a computer. John December defines CMC as “the process by which people create, exchange, and perceive information using networked telecommunications systems (or non-networked computers) that facilitate encoding, transmitting, and decoding messages.” For my research, CMC will be referred to as the type of communication that is used online, especially on Facebook. (http://www.december.com/john/study/cmc/what.html )

Interpersonal Communication (IC or FtF): Is often referred to as communication between two people, or face-to-face communication. Dr. Derek Lane defines IC as “An interactional process between two people (a dyad), either face-to-face or through mediated forms.” For my research, IC will be referred to as FtF communication that takes place offline. (http://www.uky.edu/~drlane/capstone/persuasion/)

Social Capital (SC): Is a term that is hard to define, but refers to the knowledge and resources that people gain by interacting with others. James Coleman defines it as “the resources accumulated through the relationships among people.” For my research, Social Capital will be referred to as the advantages gained from social interactions with other people in FtF communication. (http://onemvweb.com/sources/sources/social_capital.pdf)

Social Interaction (SI): Is the interactions between two or more people in which someone is gaining social competence. R.J. Rummel states, “Social interactions are the acts, actions, or practices of two or more people mutually oriented towards each other's selves, that is, any behavior that tries to affect or take account of each other's subjective experiences or intentions.” For my research, SI will be used to refer to the interactions people have in social settings, whether they are online or offline. (http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/TCH.CHAP9.HTM)

Social Networking Sites (SNS): Are websites that allow people to put information into profiles and make them accessible to others. Nicole Ellison defines an SNS as “web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system.” For my research, I will be focused on one of these SNS, Facebook. I will also discuss how it is different from other platforms and the significance of its differences.


Today we are surrounded by technology and it is no longer just a tool used by humans. Technology has become an extension of the lives that people live, especially college students. The reason that it has become an extension (or part) of people’s lives is how we us it to communicate. One of the ways we use it to communicate is through the World Wide Web via electronic mail (email), instant messaging (IM) and social networking sites (SNS). Ana M. Martinez Aleman and Katherine Lynk Wartman state, “Unlike the generations of college students that predated the inception of the World Wide Web, the college student today experiences college in both real and virtual communities. Early adapters of Internet technology, today’s college students are active in several online communities in which they explore new forms of self-expression, create connections in the past improbable, and more and more blur their real worlds and their virtual worlds.” (1). One of these online communities is Facebook, which is being used all across college campuses as a way to reconnect with friends, setup study groups, communicate with new friends, find social gatherings, establish a social identity, stay up-to-date with popular culture, etc. The list could go on-and-on, but the point is that people are using Facebook as a means of communication, one which connects their online and offline relationships. College students are using it for their social, academic and professional lives, which is hard to find in many other mediums of communication. However, there seems to be a connection between the ‘offline’ and ‘online’ reality that college students live in. This connection’s roots lie within the fundamental, but complex ideas of communication and how we communicate with the people we know or do not know. I argue, based on my research, that the computer mediated communication platform known as Facebook, has changed the way college students communicate online and is in the process of changing the way college students communicate offline by swaying their social interaction preferences from face-to-face communication to computer mediated communication.

Facebook is playing a role in every college student’s lives’ whether they use the platform or not. People that are not using it hear about it in class, at the dining halls, from their peers and even from their professors. We are surrounded. When looking around a classroom there are often more people on Facebook than paying attention to the professor. On occasion I have seen students using the ‘chat’ tool on Facebook to communicate with someone in the same class, instead of talking to one another. Aleman and Wartman discuss that “Prior to the development of Facebook in February 2004, when college students communicated with each other online they did so through text messaging” (7). The use of computer mediated communication was not created with the launch of Facebook, but Facebook progresses the use of this form of communication, often through the increased rate of users. One study shows that “over 85% of all college and university students use Facebook” (Aleman, Wartman 7). The problem is not that people are using this technology, but that they are replacing the components of their ‘offline’ reality with an ‘online’ reality. Some researchers suggest that the digital natives (college students) are unable to see the line between the two worlds. For example, “Undergraduates overwhelmingly (99.9%) believe that the primary purpose of technology is to communicate, and 81.6% communicate with friends, classmates and others on social networking sites” (Aleman, Wartman 18). It appears that college students are relying on CMC and losing interest in interpersonal communication.

However, some research suggests that the movement towards CMC can be beneficial. Niki Panteli suggests this about CMC, “it can enable people to communicate across boundaries” (158). This is a definite advantage compared to interpersonal communication because most people do not have the tools to communicate in many different languages. Another study suggests, that by using CMC, users expanded their social capital. Ellison, Lampe and Steinfield state, “It is clear that the Internet facilitates new connections, in that it provides people with an alternative way to connect with others who share their interests or relational goals” (1147). The sharing of similar interests is a critical aspect when creating and maintaining relationships. Although, both of these points are valid they do not help clarify the move from IC to CMC. The point of my argument is not that one is more beneficial than another, but that college students are choosing one over the other. The loss of face-to-face communication is due to a shift in social interaction preference.

The cause of this shift is not just one thing; such as friendships, popularity, social norms or connectivity, but a combination of these and more. Scholars believe that ‘social anxiety’ is a huge factor in the shift. Philippot and Douilliez suggest in their study that “respondents who felt anxiety and fears in their face-to-face communication used Facebook to pass time and feel less lonely more than other respondents, but they had fewer Facebook friends” (132). Although, they felt less lonely there is still a level of belittlement in the fact that they have fewer ‘friends’ on Facebook. We will not get in to the debate on Facebook ‘friends’ and the authenticity of friendship, but this seems to be causing more of a problem. It seems as if their escape is going to be their demise. In other words, there does not seem to be a benefit of using CMC platforms such as Facebook when there is still a level of anxiety associated.

On the other hand, some individuals have stated that their anxiety is self-made because they want to uphold their online appearance. One participant states, “I am willing to give up some of my face-to-face relationships to have more time for my online relationships” (Caplan). This individual sees more importance in the online relationship because it is more rewarding. Another suggests, “My relationships online are more important to me than many of my face-to-face relationships. I am happier being online than I am offline because when I am online, I socialize with other people without worrying about how I look” (Caplan). There is some level of disclosure associated with CMC and Facebook. The last participant discusses a social anxiety based on the fact that she can control how she looks online. It is much easier to hide the negative aspects of our lives online. More often than not, our online identities strive for perfection. However, college students are not finding acceptance from themselves, but they are look for it from others.

The idea that college students develop their social identity through Facebook has been an integral part of the studies conducted on the use of CMC. One such study states, “Key characteristics of adolescent development include the formation of identity, the development of intimate relationships, and the power of the peer group” (Pempek, Yermolayeva, Calvert). Adolescents are now going through these psychosocial development stages online. This could have major effects on how young adults, specifically college students, develop their communication skills. Facebook has some control on the development of these skills because college students are using it to communicate their experiences, relationships with others, work experiences and views of the world. A group of researchers from Georgetown Univeristy discuss that “Facebook provides a unique opportunity for students to display their identities. Religion, political ideology, and work, which are traditional markers of adolescent and young adult identity (Arnett, 2000; Erikson, 1963), were reported by college students as important in expressing who they were” (Pempek, Yermolayeva, Calvert). This study shows, college students are focused on the development of their social identities online, but it must affect their offline interactions as well. Most studies have shown that the most individuals use Facebook to maintain pre-existing connections and to stay in touch. However, that shows people are taking the same precautions online that they would while interacting online. It is still possible to hide the bad things, but most people do not express those negative aspects face-to-face. The development of social identities is pushing the change of social preference from offline to online and is evident in the amounts of time that college students are spending on Facebook.

Not only is Facebook the most used social networking site, by number of users, it is also where most college students spend their time when online. The same Georgetown research group conducted a survey on the amount of time spent on Facebook. Their results stated that “According to the diary-like measure, the amount of time that students reported spending on Facebook on a given day varied greatly. Facebook use ranged from 2.00 to 117.00 min per weekday and from 0.00 to 165.00 min per day on Saturday and Sunday” (Pempek, Yermolayeva, Calvert). There are obvious outliers due to the fact that some people reported not getting on Facebook during a typical day. The study discusses that “With outliers removed, the mean amount of Facebook use during weekdays was 27.93 min per day (SD=19.43;Mdn=25.00) and weekend days was 28.44min per day (SD=23.69;Mdn= 20.00)” (Pempek, Yermolayeva, Calvert). There seems to be little difference in the amount of time spent on Facebook from weekday to weekend. With these stats and the information available on the use of Facebook it is hard to deny that this CMC platform is being used for communicating instead of traditional interpersonal communication. However, my own study showed different results.

In my own study, I focused on the use of Facebook and the role it plays in social interaction preference. I asked 100 college students, ages ranging from 18-29, to participate in a simple survey about their Facebook use. Although the survey consisted of 11 questions, I was focused, in particular, on how they responded to just 3 of them. Those questions were: 1.Would you rather communicate face-to-face or via Facebook?; 2. Have you ever communicated with someone via Facebook when you could have communicated with them face-to-face, phone call or text?; and 3. Has Facebook changed the way you communicate with individuals face-to-face? My results were as follows: Question 1. 75 participants chose FtF, while 25 chose Facebook. Question 2. 85 participants said yes, while 15 said no. Question 3. was a short-answer question. I will get to those results shortly. For the first question, I received responses that were comparable with a study done by Sherry Robinson and Hans Anton Stubberud. Their research results showed that “Face to face communication, the most media rich of all communication methods, was clearly the most preferred method for both work/school (mean 1.44) and social communication (mean 1.52) with little difference (0.08) between the mean rankings for both purposes” (109). This was something that I was not expecting and goes against my thesis, but it valid and must be addressed. However, this study is not addressing CMC and FtF communication as different forms. It is important to remember that they are different types of communication because one is taking place online and the other offline. Susan Barnes discussed how technology changes the two, “The technology introduces the limited cures into the communication process. Moreover, the concept revolves around the idea that a medium’s social effects are caused by the degree of social presence, which it creates through people interacting with a partner” (7). Barnes is addressing that CMC cannot be interpersonal until you know who you’re talking to, but even then it is not the same thing as face-to-face social interaction.

The answers to questions 2 and 3 showed that college students are recognizing a difference in the communication styles and also showing a change in social interaction preference. With 85% of my study’s participants choosing to communicate via Facebook instead of other mediums, shows that there is an obvious shift occurring. Obviously, this is a small sample of the overall population, but I think the national results would be similar. Those results may not be as high, but I suggest that they will be above the 50% mark. After compiling question 3’s responses into yes and no categories, 65% said that Facebook had changed the way they communicate with people face-to-face. Further research into why this is the case would be very intriguing, but for now it seems to prove that college students preferences are changing. Wright and Webb suggest that “SNSs are playing an increasingly important role in the communication patterns of young adults and are even beginning to gain reputation as a viable networking tool for adults” (14). The results of the above studies suggest that these patterns are changing and that the current focus is somewhere between FtF and CMC.

Technology is constantly changing the lives of college students. Some suggest that the ‘Net-generation’ could not get away from technology even if they tried. This is not necessarily true for everyone, but it would be hard for most college students. The reason being, we use it to communicate every day. Sherry Turkle states, “It used to be that the kids would race to pick up the phone. Now they are up in their rooms, knowing no one is going to call them and texting and going on Facebook or whatever instead” (15). There is no need to talk on the phone and even less of a need to communicate face-to-face. College students are changing their social interaction preferences because that is what is popular and over 85% of college students are using Facebook. The importance of developing an identity is crucial to early college students and one way to do so is through improving your online identity. Furthermore, the improvement of an online identity can have positive effects on a college student’s social capital. College students are gaining this social capital by interacting with other online, specifically through the use of CMC platforms like Facebook. Through reading many research studies and conduct one of my own, I am confident that Facebook is changing the way college students interact online and consequently it is changing offline interactions. In the future, it will be interesting to see if Facebook and other CMC platforms move the norms from wall-to-wall communication. What will be next?


Works Cited

Aleman Martínez, A. M, and Katherine L. Wartman. Online Social Networking on Campus: Understanding What Matters in Student Culture. New York, NY: Routledge, 2009. Print.

Barnes, Susan B. Socializing the Classroom: Social Networks and Online Learning. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2012. Print.

Caplan, S. E. (2002). Problematic Internet use and psychosocial well-being: Development of a theory-based cognitive-behavioral measurement instrument. Computers in Human Behavior, 18, 553-575.

Ellison, N. B. (2007), Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13: 210–230

Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C. and Lampe, C. (2007), The Benefits of Facebook “Friends:” Social Capital and College Students’ Use of Online Social Network Sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12: 1143–1168.

Panteli, Niki. Virtual Social Networks: Mediated, Massive and Multiplayer Sites. Basingstoke England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Print.

Pempek, Tiffany A., Yermolayeva, Yevdokiya A., Sandra L. Calvert. College students' social networking experiences on Facebook, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, Volume 30, Issue 3, May–June 2009, Pages 227-238,

Pierre Philippot and Celine Douillez. Impact of Social Anxiety. Eds. Kappas, Arvid, and Nicole C. Krämer. Face-to-face Communication Over the Internet:. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Print.

Robinson, Sherry, and Hans Anton Stubberud. "Communication Preferences among University Students." Academy of Educational Leadership Journal 16.2 (2012): 105-13. ABI/INFORM Global. Web. 23 Oct. 2012.

Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York: Basic Books, 2011. Print.

Wright, Kevin B, and Lynne M. Webb. Computer-mediated Communication in Personal Relationships. New York: Peter Lang, 2011. Print.