It is a safe bet that computer-mediated communication (CMC) features in the everyday life of those likely to be consulting this volume. Less than two decades ago this would not have been the case. The growth of the Internet has meant that CMC use has become ubiquitous in the developed world, and a marker of social exclusion for those denied access.
Social science has hardly kept pace with these technological changes in communication, either in terms of understanding their global impacts or their local effects. In this chapter we focus on the main social psychological theories that have been proposed to account for the effects of computer-mediated communication on individuals and groups, and on the role of language as a medium and mediator for these effects.
As such, this review is partial and excludes certain influential approaches, such as those with more sociological or business management underpinnings (e.g., Contractor & Seibold, 1993; DeSanctis & Poole, 1994; Valacich, Jessup, Dennis, & Nunamaker, 1992). The different approaches reviewed below vary considerably in terms of their underlying theoretical foundations but a recurring theme is the extent to which CMC should be regarded as a medium that is capable of supporting social relations.
In other words, “How social is CMC?” This issue has been vigorously debated in the literature, and has spawned theories that attempt to evaluate the relative “social efficiency” of CMC or else to identify specific conditions under which CMC may support or undermine social influence and social relations in general.