MAS 960  ·  Signals, Truth & Design Seminar  ·  Fall 2007

11.13 Words and text

"Talk is cheap". On the surface, verbal conversation is a conventional signal, via which it is as easy to say the truth as it is to lie. This is particularly true of text based mediated conversation, where the pauses and other cues that may indicate deception in face to face conversation are missing.

However, conversation interaction is more complex than this. Non-verbal cues communicate messages of their own, in addition to supplementing reliability of the words.

Saville-Troike, Muriel    The ethnography of communication ( ch 2 and ch 3)
Voida, Newstetter and Mynatt    When conventions collide: the tensions of instant messaging attributed
Tyler and Tang   When can i expect an email response? A study of rhythms in email usage
Nicholas Ducheneaut   The social impacts of electronic mail in organizations: a case study of electronic power games using communication genres
Hancock, Thom-Santelli and Ritchie   Deception and design: the impact of communication technology on lying behavior
  1. Read the papers.

2. Tyler and Tang discuss the meanings encoded in email response patterns. When would you characterize these as deliberate signals? Unintended cues? What other non-textual cues and signals are encoded in email (e.g. capitalization, msg length, etc.) - what might they signify?

2. Many things are signaled in conversations. One is the relative status of the participants: this is indicated through the use of polite language, the choreography of interruptions, usef of formal or vernacular language, etc. Another is one's comprehension of the other's statements: this can be siganled through nods, rephrasing, etc. How are these indicated in textual media such as IM and email? What could make this signal clearer? Does it need to be more reliable? If so, when - and how would it be made so?

3. Hancock et al discuss lying in different media. Their findings are that people are most honest in email, followed by IM, then face to face interaction, and least honest on the phone.  Does this seem surprising? Why or why not? What are the costs of deception in each of these media - what are the effects of recordability, spontaneity, proximity, etc?

4. Saville-Troike discusses the concept of "communicative competence". Can a non-grammatical email be competent? A well-formed one incompetent?

Please link your essays by Monday midday.