As we have seen, new communication technologies have generated new forms of text, which do not easily comply with traditional notions of written and oral communication. CMC uses the computer as both the transmission and the reception system, and presents us with a number of possible media for the creation, transmission and reception of messages. The communication comes in two principal forms: synchronous as in e-mail and asynchronous as in Internet Relay Chat. This essay has taken up various new forms of linguistic practice that have emerged as users seek to exploit and make the best use of the new opportunities available. Software descriptions have intentionally been kept to a minimum, as computer software is perishable, but the major ideas of each mode of communication have been taken up. Though the communication still mainly takes the shape of typed text, the transmitted messages form parts of ongoing and dynamic interaction. Therefore, the electronic discourse displays features we normally ascribe to oral communication and some features that are entirely new to our experience. Participants in CMC experience the exchange of messages in real time, like a spoken conversation. Their discourse takes a transient and changing form and their construction of language changes with changing contexts.
Digital technology admits of instant transmission of information, text and knowledge around the world. On the verge of the 21st century, we are no longer confined to the fixity of the print era. Print has for long been regarded as the main medium of power but along with the development of computer technology, the supremacy of print is threatened. Documents stored in computers are globally accessible and electronic texts are highly malleable. The fluidity of conversations in IRC presents us with new linguistic manifestations and leads to new assumptions about the relationship between author and reader and the discourse itself. Occasionally electronic discourse blurs the distinction between the identity of the writer and his/her representation. Computer-mediated communication has been said to mark the end of linear writing. It may have a significant effect on our presentation of self and our perceptions of others - if we allow it to. The technology is, however, essentially created by humans and primarily intended to facilitate human communication. Accordingly, the technology itself has no self-serving purpose. Any fear we feel towards the effects of CMC says more about ourselves than it does about the technology. After all, all sudden extensions in human modes of communication have threatened uninitiated users.
The introduction to this essay elucidates how sociolinguistic changes in the electronic age reflect changes that occurred in each of the preceding Written and Print Cultures. McMurdo (1995:141) says that within each of the cultures political power rests on verbal fluency. He points out that individuals who are the first to adapt to the concurrent media of communication are socially the most influential. This is because social structures correlate closely with access to information. On the other hand, history has taught us that those with knowledge may restrict access to it to retain power. No matter how accessible it is, the Internet is still only used by a tiny fraction of the global population. There are still unconnected countries and countries that have low-capacity links. Lately, a social gap between users and non-users even within countries has been noted. All these challenges are at variance with the development of an ever-increasing electronic consciousness among those adept in computer communication.
Computer communication, nevertheless, enables the integration of multiple perspectives into one global conversation, as manifested in newsgroup discussions and in Internet Relay Chat. Global CMC challenges structures, practices and cultural ideas that were previously assumed to be fixed or obvious. Not least, CMC displays new forms of communicative practice, which differ from any assumptions we may have had about oral and literate behavior. What counts as literacy today may no longer do so in the future. Some of the new types of text may have direct effects upon the English language. The printing era provided a basis for the longevity of a language. The electronic era may provide the very opposite. Electronic texts exploit a lack of fixity that encourages semantic and syntactic innovation. On the other hand, the electronic texts we encounter today may prove to have been just experiments on the road to a new literacy where text plays a much less significant part.
Along with the development of more powerful computers and software, CMC itself changes. Today, the focus of computer science is on non-literate, visual interactivity, moving images and the development of functional software for Internet video telephony. Videoclips with voice messages and moving color images may be sent to anyone, and if both users have the same software, they can engage in live telecommunication over the Internet. Most of the software for Internet telephony is in its infancy, but in the next ten years we will definitely be presented with new tools for communication. In each of the cultures preceding the Electronic, tools themselves have had a reflexively shaping effect on culture and perceptions, according to McMurdo (1995:141). The Electronic age is no different in this respect.
McMurdo (1995:142) wisely notes that it is impossible for the literate consciousness to imagine accurately back to the oral one. Once literacy has been acquired, a person cannot imagine what it is like not to be able to read and write. Perhaps, in the future, it will be impossible for the electronic consciousness to imagine accurately back to the pre-electronic one. Electronic communication may prove so natural and self-evident that we cannot imagine a life without it. Whether we like it or not, current progress points in that direction. CMC is here to stay and our analytical exploration of its rapidly changing world has only just begun.