Beyond Bandwidth: Dimensions of Connection in Interpersonal Communication
Computer-mediated communication (CMC) is a keystone of computer-supported collaborative work. Current CMC theory utilizes an information channel metaphor in which media vary according to how well they afford the transfer of messages in the channel, i.e., bandwidth. This paper draws attention to a different aspect of communication argued to be equally important: a relation between people that defines a state of communicative readiness in which fruitful communication is likely. Drawing on research on instant messaging (Nardi et al., 2000) and face to face communication (Nardi et al., 2002; Nardi and Whittaker, 2003), as well as related literature, three dimensions of connection that activate readiness are proposed: affinity, commitment, and attention. These dimensions comprise a field of connection between dyads. A field of connection is conceptualized as a labile, multidimensional space in which the values of the dimensions vary according to the history of communicative activity. Affinity, commitment, and attention are constantly monitored, negotiated, and managed through social bonding, expression of commitment, and capture of attention. The management of fields of connection requires significant interactional work to sustain communication over time.