Communication, Communicator Characteristics and Competence: The Case of Online (Internet-Mediated) Communication
In the present century, computer and the Internet have become the most widely-used technologies. Since its inception in 1994, the Inter-Network, popularly called the Internet, has revolutionized the way people communicate and interact. The computer and Internet technologies offer promising opportunities for upgrading the quality of human life. They have permeated every aspect of human life, particularly the fields of leisure and entertainment, education, and entertainment.
The arrival of the Internet in today's society is marked as a new stage towards further development and integration to the so-called "cyber-community" of users from all over the world. Avid online users, with their receptiveness for new computer technologies, have learned to utilize the Internet for academic, work, and even personal activities. Because of its accessibility and wide reach, one would think that almost everyone uses and is 'connected' to the Internet.
An important dimension that emerged from Internet-based communication is the prevalence of online communication, in the form of chat or instant messaging, forums, blogs, or even social networking sites. It is in this new form of communication that a new challenge also emerged, one that challenged the user/communicator to interact and communicate "competitively" using the online platform. Indeed, this change in communication channel also changed the landscape of communicating and interacting as people have done it previously: now, communication encompasses all channel forms, and to be considered a competent communicator, must be able to adapt his/her communication skills appropriately to the medium through which the message is being channeled.
II. Theoretical Foundations
Theories of communication illustrating the processes involving online communication can be reflected primarily through Habermas' Theory of Communicative Action, Rogers and Shoemaker's Diffusion of Innovation model, and Theory of Reasoned Action.
In his seminal work, The Theory of Communicative Action, Habermas (1984) formulated a holistic theory that describes and explains the processes in which individuals are able to create and become part of a "public sphere." The public sphere is a venue for individuals (within a society) to interact, "to explain… social competence," and 'develop forms of social integration' (1987:399). Moreover, the creation of a public sphere and of public opinion is directed by the mass media, which provides an opportunity for individuals to interact and communicate with other people.
In the modern society, the creation of the public sphere becomes possible through the mass media, which, in this discussion, includes online/Internet-based media. During interaction mediated by the mass media, individuals can learn to become competent in communication, participating in discourses Habermas terms as, "intersubjective recognition of criticizable validity claims" (xxvi). Yes/no positions on these validity claims require knowledge of communication per se, and Habermas cites language as one vehicle through which communicative action (at its most basic sense) is accomplished.
The development of forms of social integration results from communicative action. At this level, Habermas argues that mass media create "new potentials for emancipation, resistance and withdrawals" (xxxvii). This is because these forms of social integration become hierarchical, creating a center and its peripheries where "channel communication" primarily flows from the central down to its peripheral networks. Information and opportunities for communicative action lessens as communication flows from the center to the peripheries, illustrating the integration or marginalization of individuals within these "communication structures" (1987:390).
The theory of communicative action basically explains how communication in the advent of technological developments in the mass media results to differentiation and stratification among individuals. Individuals who are in the center of communication flow are those who are able to communicate competently in the 'language' of new technologies of mass media, while people in the peripheries become marginalized as a result of their inability to exercise competent communicative actions. In effect, the development of structures in the public sphere becomes an opportunity to benefit people who have the knowledge and resources to become communicatively competent, while people who do not have these privileges are not given equal opportunity to exercise and participate in communicative actions.
Habermas' second premise of the theory of communicative action, the development of hierarchical communication structures in the public sphere, is illustrated by the model of belonging, describing how "people who are meaningfully connected" to mass media becomes more integrated and competent than people who are in the periphery -- those who…