Communication via SMS:

The British Journal of Social Psychology published an article in 2007 entitled “Interacting via SMS: Practices of social closeness and reciprocation”.

This paper deals with the sequential structure of communication via short message service (SMS), also known as text messaging, among adults and young adults, aged 25-35 and 50-65.  A collection of 173 SMS exchanges for personal communication, spontaneously composed by participants, was gathered.  Each exchange was photographed from the display of the participant’s mobile phone and then analyzed with the approach of conversation analysis.

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A questionnaire was also administered during the collection procedure. The analysis of the practices organizing the action sequence reveals that exchanges frequently lack openings and closures, show an effort towards reciprocation and use implicit or anticipated actions. Social presence seems then characterized by a sense of constant availability, symmetric commitment and shared understanding.
The article concluded that the sequential structure of mediated communication may give insightful details on the nature of the social presence thereby constituted and may provide a criterion to compare different communication modes (2007).  This paper will attempt to analyze the strength of the evidence presented in this article.
Communication via SMS: An Article Review
The article entitled “Interacting via SMS: Practices of social closeness and reciprocation”argues that SMS has developed into a recognizable social place, with its own practices and affordances for establishing social presence and that it is characterized by “persistency, reciprocation and familiarity” (Spagnolli, 2007).
They also found, through conversation analysis that SMS communication is designed around the turn, with very frequent multiple-action turns. The first question one may consider when presented with this article is was this research necessary?  Although not quite necessary, this research does provide some interesting insights into the ever more popular communication method of text messaging.
This research was in supplement to previous research on the same subject.  Some practices of SMS usage are already known, as ethnographic and linguistics studies have been carried out on teenage users.  Some researchers have investigated the communicative setting and its social norms (Grinter & Elridge, 2003).
They show that SMS exchanges can be initiated in situations where other modes are forbidden, such as in class or at night, and that their intersection with other activities requires practices of participation management and context messages (Thurlow, 2003).
In particular, a group of researchers has collected large numbers of messages and illustrated how SMS writers make the most out of a limited set of the available alpha-numeric characters well beyond the mere use of ‘emoticons’ whose actual rate is often quite low (Ling, 2005).
The functions and topics of an SMS exchange have been categorized and their communicative style identified as a peculiar mixture of morality and writing, spontaneity and care, supporting strategies of self-presentation and linguistic play (Ling, 2005).
However, the kind of practice that has been less considered, if at all, is the one responsible for inner structure of an SMS exchange.  That is where this research comes into play.  Since a communicative exchange is a form of interaction conducted through discourse, these practices can reveal important aspects of the social presence created (Spagnolli, 2007).
The goal of the research behind this article was to “investigate the interactional and pragmatic resources that five cohesion to a series of otherwise discrete contributions, and by allowing the sequential organization of these exchanges, create the coordinates along which the encounter is organized” (Spagnolli, 2007).
  In contrast to other studies on SMS, which have considered individual messages, this study analyzed each message with reference to the previous and subsequent one in sequence.  It was the exchange of messages that was most important to these researchers.  Another point of originality of this study also relies on the kind of participants involved.  Prior, SMS literature focused on teenagers, who could be considered as ‘core’ users.
However, if using this medium is participating in a social place as is argued, then even peripheral users like adults should follow shared practices instead of totally idiosyncratic ones.  Therefore, the researchers chose to study young adults and adults.
Next, it is important to determine whether the methods the authors implemented for their research were the proper method and whether they were effective.  According to the authors, given the need for exploring a poorly covered phenom, i.e. SMS exchanges between adults, they looked for natural data, while at the same time, trying to collect a fair number of exchanges (Spagnolli, 2007).
According to the authors, diaries would have offered a richer, contextualization of the exchanges collected, but they could have also decreased spontaneity during the message exchange and required a more limited number of participants with a longer commitment with the research (Spagnolli, 2007).  Therefore the authors chose to collect 180 exchanges using the following system.
They asked people for one series of sent and received messages still present in the memory of their cell phone, regardless of who initiated the exchange, but with the requirement that the series be complete with all messages exchanges (Spagnolli, 2007).
  In this way, messages were not composed for the sake of research and the length of the exchanges were naturally defined.  This was very intuitive on the part of the authors as the data they collected was natural and not skewed because of the research method.


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