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A chatroom ethnography: Evolution of community, norms, nonverbal communication
Unformatted Document Text:  A Chatroom Ethnography 8 community is often considered problematic, it is a useful metaphor for articulating, in addition to Lindlif and Shatzer’s (1998) projections, findings on patterns of relationships, institutions, and language. Viewing CMC locals as communities is consistent with my earlier discussion regarding CMC as a socially constructed phenomenon where groups and individuals can be identified and interactions between them explicated. Lindlif and Shatzer’s (1998) primary concern with ethnographies of CMC is that it may be difficult to conduct appropriate participant observation in media situations judged to be low in richness or social presence, particularly when there is probably little evidence of nonverbal behaviors. As my narrative and the discussion of the richness of CMC demonstrates, this worry is ungrounded and is based in a faulty assumption that elements of nonverbal communication are unlikely to be present in a mediated form of communication. Some of the discussions of CMC such as Herring’s (1999) conclusions that CMC is a lean and incoherent (yet enjoyable) medium and Witmer and Katzman’s (1997) analysis of ‘graphic accents’ (i.e., limited nonverbal usage in CMC) suffer because they are limited in their questions about the medium. In the case of Herring’s (1999) analysis, her observations about online communication are correct; that the exchanges are loosely constructed with delays or multiple overlapping exchanges. Yet, her conclusions that CMC is a lean medium and that these conversations are not coherent are fundamentally flawed. Witmer and Katzman (1997) tried to focus on gendered graphic accent use, yet could not find evidence to support their hypotheses. In both of these cases, someone who is familiar with chatroom language would have better served the research questions or hypotheses through a rigorous ethnographic analysis. This argument lends credibility to Crawford’s (1996) call for more auto-ethnography so that we can immerse ourselves in a community we know and draw appropriate conclusions about

Authors: Diers, Audra.
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A Chatroom Ethnography
8
community is often considered problematic, it is a useful metaphor for articulating, in addition to
Lindlif and Shatzer’s (1998) projections, findings on patterns of relationships, institutions, and
language. Viewing CMC locals as communities is consistent with my earlier discussion
regarding CMC as a socially constructed phenomenon where groups and individuals can be
identified and interactions between them explicated.
Lindlif and Shatzer’s (1998) primary concern with ethnographies of CMC is that it may
be difficult to conduct appropriate participant observation in media situations judged to be low in
richness or social presence, particularly when there is probably little evidence of nonverbal
behaviors. As my narrative and the discussion of the richness of CMC demonstrates, this worry
is ungrounded and is based in a faulty assumption that elements of nonverbal communication are
unlikely to be present in a mediated form of communication. Some of the discussions of CMC
such as Herring’s (1999) conclusions that CMC is a lean and incoherent (yet enjoyable) medium
and Witmer and Katzman’s (1997) analysis of ‘graphic accents’ (i.e., limited nonverbal usage in
CMC) suffer because they are limited in their questions about the medium. In the case of
Herring’s (1999) analysis, her observations about online communication are correct; that the
exchanges are loosely constructed with delays or multiple overlapping exchanges. Yet, her
conclusions that CMC is a lean medium and that these conversations are not coherent are
fundamentally flawed. Witmer and Katzman (1997) tried to focus on gendered graphic accent
use, yet could not find evidence to support their hypotheses. In both of these cases, someone who
is familiar with chatroom language would have better served the research questions or
hypotheses through a rigorous ethnographic analysis.
This argument lends credibility to Crawford’s (1996) call for more auto-ethnography so
that we can immerse ourselves in a community we know and draw appropriate conclusions about


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