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Face-to-face interaction is the canonical form of human social encounter against which mediated interaction is often found wanting. John Thompson (1995) draws a distinction between three forms of interaction in the modern age: face to face interaction, mediated interaction, and mediated quasi-interaction. The first requires co-presence with a shared sense of space and time; the second involves stretching communication between individuals via a technical medium (paper in the case of a letter, or fiber-optic cable in the case of the telephone or the Internet), thereby uncoupling the link between space and time; whilst the third, quasi” mediated interaction, also involves time-space dislocation but is produced for an indefinite range of potential recipients which applies to forms of mass media like broadcasting.
The categories are helpful, but they are often used to imply a hierarchy. Face to face interaction relies on a full range of symbolic cues, gestures etc., that can be read into the co-present, fully dialogic (two-way) encounter. Mediated interaction (via the telephone or instant messaging) is reciprocal, but there is a limited range of symbolic cues on offer depending upon the technology, whilst the most impoverished form of interaction is quasi” because encountering a television presenter is essentially monologic and can only simulate reciprocity – fueling debates about the linear (and ideological) imperative of mass communication.
However, forms of mediated interaction regularly employ new repertoires of expressive cues such as the use of emoticons in computer mediated messaging, and whilst there is no immediate back-channel to speak to the television presenter, viewers regularly call in, text in and shout back at the television set in interactions which are still authentic” even if we accept them as ”quasi.” We should remind ourselves that power is enacted in most forms of communication, and therefore the challenge is to fully understand the evolving ways in which we live amid exploded conversations [and] turns that never quite connect” (Durham Peters 2006: 120) without privileging face to face communication as some nostalgic humanist ideal.
- Durham Peters, J. (2006) Media as conversation: conversation as media. In: James Thompson, J. (ed.) The Media and Modernity. Polity, Cambridge.