Our generation is different than that of other generations. This generation has been witness to one of, if not the greatest change in everyday life. This generation has grown up along side the phenomenon known as the internet. Starting from a few globally connected computers to the mainstream medium it is today, the internet is here to stay. However, the complexity and utility of this modern marvel was not always this way. In fact, only in recent years has the internet become such a universal part of our media system. The important question that must be answered is what has made the internet so mainstream, used and accepted by almost every majority. The answer to this question lies in the ability for the users to interact not only with the internet itself, but with other users within the internet. Interactivity has made the internet the superhighway it is today and in the end is what internet users strive for.
First we must understand what interactivity is. This question has puzzled and frustrated researchers for years. In years past, several studies have been conducted to try and grasp what the term “online interactivity” really means. Media researchers have viewed online interactivity primarily as an attribute of technological functions of the medium such as hyper linking, activating media downloads, filling in feedback forms, and playing online games (Warnick, 1). However, this does not include any user to user interaction that would fall under the internet genre of social networking. Social networking has recently become the number one use of the internet, which in the interests of this paper would fare to be most important. Therefore, we must accept a definition that would include social networking within it. With this, in more recent years researchers have based more of their theories on interactivity to be paralleled with user to user interaction. Examples of this include chat rooms, emails, and instant messages. However, it is important to also understand that online interactivity is not limited to just social networking. Both arguments and research supply sufficient evidence that they both represent what I feel online interactivity actually means. After taking both sides of the research into account I came up with a definition of what I feel online interactivity actually is. Simply put, online interactivity is an artifact of what users experience and perceive.
Now that I have presented a definition of what I feel interactivity is in relation to the internet, I intend to prove that this definition is sufficient and why online interactivity is such a sought after commodity within the confines of the World Wide Web. I’ve decided to focus my research on political campaign websites in terms of interactivity within them. This way it will make it easier to understand each of the types of interactivity I discuss. Also by narrowing the research field, I will be able to summarize my thoughts in a fairly brief manner. Most will appreciate it since interactivity itself holds such an enormous amount of potential to touch upon. Before discussing social networking and its parallels and effects on online interactivity, I’d like to address what most people wouldn’t consider online interactivity.
A recent study on online political sites labels one type of rarely discussed interactivity called “text-based interactivity”. This concept has only recently been presented, however it has shown to play a role in users’ reactions to the campaign sites. (Warnick 7) Text-based interactivity refers to the presence of various stylistic devices, such as use of first person and active versus passive voice; additional visual cues such as photographs of the candidate or supporters interacting with other people; and additional textual content on the site. Such site elements function as rhetorical features of the site text that communicate a sense of engaging presence to site visitors. Campaign sites are purposefully designed to have a persuasive influence on their audience of users, and the use of expressive style, modes of self presentation, and attentiveness to content has been shown to enhance users’ reception of messages and recall of site content. (Warnick, 11) Although text-based interactivity is fairly simplistic compared to other modes of online interaction, research has presented and proven that it has a definite effect on a user’s perception.
User to User interactivity will be the next branch of interactivity addressed. I define this as communication between users that is aligned and moderated within a computer based medium. The extremely popular AOL Instant Messaging, Facebook, and MySpace would all fall under this genre of online interactivity. In terms of my focused research on political campaign sites, examples would include online town halls, internet chat, blog with user comments, and moderated discussions, all provided within the site medium. This also allows the representatives of each campaign a chance and place to interact with their supporters. Over the years this has proven to be an extremely successful way for candidates to communicate with supporters, as well as win over some non supporters. A study done in 2008 shows just that. The first political campaign site appeared in 1994 and only 3% of supporters stated that they used the internet as a main source of campaign news. As the years increased, so did the popularity of the internet and use of it for campaign news. In 2000, 11% said they used the web as their main source, and 21% in 2004. Most astonishingly, that percent had risen to 52% in 2008. (Warnick, 5) A lot of this success comes from the convenience and stability of the internet. With the explosion of social networking and continued use of other interactivity within their sites, the candidates were able to use the internet as an extremely powerful tool in their respective campaigns.
Moving away from the research, it’s time to consider some of my own thoughts on why I think interactivity has become such a driving factor of the internet. Ironically, I think it can all be traced back to our very first discussion of technology in class. We all unanimously agreed that technology played a role in our daily lives and has in a sense created what humans are perceived as today. Can you think back to when we didn’t have cells phones and computers? In reality, it wasn’t very long ago. We actually had to plan things in advance and communicate with each other without the use of cell phones and instant messaging. As humans, we are instinctively creatures of efficiency. We are always trying to find easier ways to complete everyday tasks, whether those tasks are as simple as making a phone call, or as complex as curing a disease, we are always looking for the easy way out. As we walk the fine line of efficient and lazy, the line eventually starts to blur. I would argue that over the years humans have used their instinctive efficiency to become lazy. I believe that this in itself has caused the explosion of social networking and online interactivity to happen. As we look back to our midterm discussion on the difference between human nature and technology, which most of us came to the conclusion that technology creates our human nature, it’s almost pathetically funny to think about what our human nature is today. Text messaging, interacting on Facebook every free second you have, and instant messenger conversations literally about nothing. Is that what our human nature is today? From our obsessive need for social networking and constant communication with each other, it becomes increasingly harder to disagree with that sad truth. Opinions aside, online interactivity has undoubtedly shown itself to be an extremely popular aspect of the internet. So much in fact that as mentioned before, social networking has become the number one use of the internet.
So as we accept that online interactivity has become highly desired by its users, we also understand more about human tendencies and our instinctive manners. After all, we have become slaves to technology. And this same technology slaves to us. Ultimately, my research of interactivity within political campaign sites has confirmed my original thoughts on online interactivity. In recent years, it has become the major factor in driving the internet into the media super highway it is today. Personal bias and skeptical research may try to disprove this theory, however any sort of argument against this conclusion would be extremely hard to support. The internet and its user interaction has become the symbol of our generation. Love it or hate it, online interactivity has and will continue to affect your everyday life.
Barbara Warnick’s “Interactivity: Golden Fleece of the Internet” Essay. University of Pittsburgh
Adam John’s Narrative and Technology Discussions