I am currently taking a class about Computer Mediated Communication (CMC). Some of the issues that consistently come up are challenges of studying CMC phenomena. For example, when we rely strictly on elements captured through technology, this limits our view of all types of communication. This can in turn limit our understanding of the impacts of CMC. However, this sort of analysis may be appropriate for different types of questions related to CMC. This seems to indicate that a large part of the challenge with studying CMC is phrasing research questions correctly, and choosing appropriate methodologies by which they can be answered. This also seems like a research area where arguing validity/generalizability is particularly challenging.
Even more challenging is the fact that technology rapidly, with just as rapid effects on social interaction. For example, “self-expression” studies that were run with personal websites 5 years ago could be repeated with Facebook now, but the results might be drastically different. In the digital realm, people keep coming up with new types of technology and throwing it out there to see what sticks. Then others start to use it and integrate it into their own lives and learn more/are changed by it.
The continuing social shift/development is particularly hard to capture across time and technologies. I found a paper by Garton et al. that attempts to overcome this by visualizing social network changes over time. Although people’s interactions with technology, expression, and connection will continue to change over time as new methods of CMC emerge, the piece that will stay consistent is that technology causes interpersonal relationships to change as new possibilities emerge. Can we measure this across different networks as they come and go? It is an interesting challenge, but perhaps this sort of work can give us a better understanding of the network shifts that are ocurring.