Communication Technology and Telenetworking
Raymond S. Nickerson
Among the more significant events in the recent history of long-distance communication have been the building of computer-based communication networks and the development of technologies that have made possible the implementation and exploitation of these networks. In this chapter we focus on these technologies and on the challenges and opportunities for human factors research that they present.
We begin with a brief historical overview of computer-communications networking technology. We then focus on current trends, especially the phenomenon of "global connectivity" that networking is coming to represent and some of the implications this could have. In the remainder of the chapter we discuss some of the human factors issues and research needs that relate to networking and its future development and applications.
Networks that link computers from different geographical locations are a relatively recent phenomenon. Since the first such networks were implemented, the technology has advanced rapidly. It appears that this rapid advance will continue and that applications of the technology will become increasingly widespread over the near term.
The first experimental networks connecting independent, nonhomogeneous,
geographically distributed computers were established in the mid-1960s (Davies and Barber, 1973; Marrill and Roberts, 1966). The ARPANET, which was to become the largest operational network in the world and to remain so for many years, was started as a four-node system by the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense in 1969 (Heart, 1975; Heart et al., 1978). According to Pool (1993), its successor, the Internet, connected about 1.7 million host computers and between 5 million and 15 million users as of 1993, and the numbers have been doubling annually.
The establishment and proliferation of computer networks have been accompanied—indeed made possible—by an ever-increasing blurring of the distinction between computer and communication technologies. The Internet and the many smaller networks that connect to it depend on computing resources for all aspects of their operation and for the provision of the various services, such as electronic mail and bulletin boards, teleconferencing, information utilities, and the many others that they offer.
Today there are several types of networks: local networks, long-distance networks that use telephone lines, satellite networks that communicate by radio transmission, and network complexes that use a variety of means of transmission. Some networks are designed to connect only the terminals in a single building or office complex; at the other extreme are those that connect facilities in different countries and regions of the world. Networks have been established to serve the interests of government agencies, business corporations, educational institutions, and the general public.
Not only have networks been rapidly increasing in number and size; the bandwidth or "throughput" capacity of the individual links of which they are composed has been expanding greatly as well. Wide-area networks now typically operate at 1.5 megabits (million bits) per second, and many local-area networks have transmission rates of 10 megabits per second. Systems that use optical fibers as the transmission medium support rates of 100 megabits and, in a few cases, 1 gigabit (billion bit).
TECHNOLOGY TRENDS AND EXPECTATIONS
Network enhancements will come from the development of increasingly powerful computing devices, many of which are especially designed for network applications, as well as from improvements in the methods for transmitting information from point to point and from the development of new network configurations and new ways of linking networks together.
Rapidly Increasing Bandwidth
Probably the most significant predictable trend in networking is a continuing increase in network bandwidths at all levels of network operations.
Systems with transmission rates of 10 gigabits per second could be in place by the end of the century or soon thereafter (Kahn, 1987); and there is already speculation that terabit (trillion bit) capacity systems might be feasible in the not-distant future (Partridge, 1990).
Optical fiber will become increasingly used as the information conduit for future systems (Bell, 1989; Desurvire, 1992); it is expected that most homes will have access to broadband fiber networks within 10 to 20 years (Shumate, 1989). Wireless terminals, foreshadowed by cellular telephone technology, will also become more generally available, as will high-resolution color terminals with three-dimensional graphics capability.
If network bandwidth continues to increase at anything like its recent rate, it will soon be feasible to transmit enormous amounts of data (including digital voice and video) at very low cost. As more and more systems acquire the capacity to transmit high-quality speech with little or no compression, digital voice seems certain to be an increasingly practical mode of communication between one person and another through computer networks, and between people and computers (Makhoul et al., 1990). Speech recognition technology is also becoming sufficiently mature to be useful in a variety of contexts (Waldrop, 1988).
Although bandwidth limitations have been a problem for digital speech transmission, the consequences of these limitations have been more severe for picture transmission. Trying to transmit pictorial information through a channel that can handle, say, 50,000 bits per second is a little like trying to fill a swimming pool through a straw. But again, if network bandwidths increase at rates close to those experts have been predicting, digital video transmission will become a practical reality for many applications reasonably soon.
This is not to suggest that there will not be a desire for still greater bandwidth; to date the appetite for increased bandwidth has always managed to stay ahead of the technology's ability to deliver, and there is little evidence that this will change right away, if ever. For present purposes, the important point is that the technology is advancing rapidly, its applications and potential applications multiplying apace.
One way to characterize what is happening in telecommunications is to say that the degree to which people everywhere are connected, or could be connected, to other people and to information resources of all kinds, independently of location, is rapidly increasing. The National Research Council's (1988) Computer Science and Technology Board has recently called for the development of an integrated national computer network system that would permit communication between any two computers in the country. This call
has been echoed in legislative proposals to make the establishment of high-speed data highways a matter of national priority (Gore, 1991). There is similar interest in the establishment of national networks in other countries around the world. Such networks could be linked by Internet gateways.
The evolving macro-system of interlinked networks can be thought of as one enormous global nexus that has the potential to increase by many orders of magnitude the degree to which individuals and information resources all over the world are interconnected and therefore accessible to each other. Some technologists envision, within the next decade or two, a single worldwide integrated services digital network that would be capable of handling digitally encoded information of any type (data, facsimile, voice, graphics, motion pictures) and that would link offices, schools, and homes to information resources of various sorts (libraries, museums, national and international data banks) throughout the world (Denning, 1989b; Forester, 1987).
What the continuing development of computer networking and the global connectivity it represents will mean is very difficult to say at this point, but it seems a safe bet that the implications—technological, political, social—will be profound. Denning (1989b) believes an emerging worldwide network of computers, which he refers to as ''Worldnet," could be a pervasive reality by the year 2000, and he has argued that such a facility would quickly become indispensable to businesses that wish to remain competitive in a networked world. One suspects that the implications for education, for recreation, for politics, and for daily life will be equally great.
Access to Information and to People
A global wideband network has the potential to give individuals unprecedented access to information and information resources independently of their location. Such access will be used to provide the ability to browse through the world's libraries, dial up movies for home viewing, consult interactive encyclopedic information services (including process simulations and manipulable microworlds), make "virtual" visits to museums and other places of interest, study in classrooms without walls (including using international collaboratives for educational purposes), participate in instantaneous polls and referenda, enjoy interactive media ("tell [or show] me more" news and entertainment), and undoubtedly take advantage of possibilities that we cannot now imagine.
The kind of connectivity that computer networks are expected to provide in the future will increase not only access to information and information resources but also access to people, independently of their location. It is to be expected that new patterns of interpersonal communication will emerge from the widespread use of this technology. Already electronic
mail, which accounts for a very substantial fraction of the total traffic over computer networks (Denning, 1989a), has significantly changed the communication patterns of many people who use it.
Unlike the telephone, radio, and television, computer networks are used for both point-to-point and broadcast communications. Electronic mail tends to be used for person-to-person communication; that is to say, messages are sent to specified individual recipients although they can also be readily sent to groups of recipients. Electronic bulletin boards are used to post messages that can be read by anyone who has access to the boards on which they are posted. Often this means a fairly large number of people.
New Methods of Information Distribution
The idea of electronic information repositories accessible to the general public is not new. For decades, forward-looking technologists have given visionary accounts of what interaction with such systems could be like (Bush, 1945; Licklider, 1965; Parker, 1973). Parker, for example, envisions the ability of the reader of an electronic newspaper to call up a bibliographic sketch of an individual who is the subject of a news story, to get tutorial information on a topic that is in the news, to do an automatic search of advertisements for items of interest, and, in general, to access information resources that could transform the reading of the news into a much richer experience than it now is.
Advantages of electronic communication of information include speed—information is communicated to everyone within a community of interest essentially instantaneously—and representational versatility—conventional text can be supplemented with animations and process simulations, including those with which the user can interact. In addition, the technology could provide users with a variety of tools and capabilities for working with very large information stores and getting what they want from them, without being burdened with a mass of data in which they have no interest.
Despite the considerable interest in the idea of electronic newspapers, magazines, and journals, not much has been done along these lines to date (although a great deal of "prepublication" information and data are exchanged among scientists via computer networks and much debate of topical scientific questions takes place on electronic bulletin boards that serve specific user communities). One wonders why the idea has not caught on more rapidly. One possibility is that not enough people have the terminal equipment and network access that is needed to make electronic distribution feasible on a large scale. Other impediments to the widespread use of electronic media for the distribution of news and technical information may be general resistance to change, distrust of (lack of confidence in) the medium, unacceptability of the quality of visual displays (as compared with
conventional print media), and the intangibility of the medium (people—especially authors—may see printed pieces as more "real" than electronic ones). Research on the question of why people often object to reading print on visual display terminals as opposed to print on paper has provided some leads that need to be explored further (Gould et al., 1987).
Changing Roles and Functions
Given the type of connectivity global telenetworks are expected to provide and the information handling tools that are already beginning to appear, new methods of information distribution are likely to become increasingly widely used. These innovations will change our fundamental ideas about information packaging and dissemination and will have implications for the traditional roles of editors, publishers, librarians, and other information workers. Questions abound. What, in the age of electronics, will constitute a "document" or its electronic analogue? What will publication mean? Who will perform the functions of quality control historically performed by editors and publishers? What will be the nature of a library? What services will it provide?
It seems likely that there will be a continuing need for publishers, librarians, and other "information brokers" in a world in which information is increasingly gathered, stored, distributed, and used in electronic form. The daily tasks that information-handling professionals perform will change, however, as will the nature of the services they provide.
Implications for Energy and Resource Consumption
As we make greater use of electronic means of distributing information that has traditionally been distributed by newspapers, magazines, journals, and books, there could be a decrease in the need for and use of paper. This would be a desirable consequence from an environmental point of view, as it would reduce natural resource use, energy use, and waste production (Chapter 5). Whether increased use of electronic publishing will in fact decrease the demand for paper remains to be seen; to date, there is little evidence that computer technology generally, or the application of this technology to information distribution in particular, has done so (Herman et al., 1989; Nickerson, 1992).
It appears that people strongly prefer to read print on paper rather than words on an electronic visual display. It is not clear to what extent this is more than a matter of discomfort with change from the familiar. Given the potential that electronic distribution of information has for reducing our dependence on paper and the fact that, so far, increased use of electronic distribution has not been accompanied by a decrease in the use of paper, it
seems important to attempt to understand better the causal relationships involved. In that way, effective steps can be taken to realize the potential for savings more fully.
Because of the possibility of two-way communication, computer networks could have profound effects on the ways in which decisions are made at various levels of government and on the extent to which citizens participate directly in the making of those decisions (Lemelshtrich, 1990). Not only will instantaneous polls and referenda be possible, but also there will be new types of forums for debate on issues of public interest by anyone who wants to participate.
A hint of how network technology may facilitate spontaneous political communication can be seen from an inspection of the messages that are posted on general-interest electronic bulletin boards. One informal analysis of 1,000 messages posted over a five-week period on a company board revealed that about 14 percent of them were classifiable as political commentary, discussion, or debate. Other major message types were requests for information ("Does anybody know …?"), 21 percent; advertisements (to sell or rent), 16 percent; and unsolicited information (meeting notices, news, service or product recommendations or warnings), 13 percent (Nickerson, 1994).
HUMAN FACTORS ISSUES
Human factors considerations pertaining to communications and telenetworking are important, in part, because eventually nearly everyone is likely to be a user of this technology. Many people will use it in their work, some in relatively traditional work settings and others in radically different contexts. Simply by making all types of information more generally accessible, computer networks greatly increase the possibility of doing "office work" in places other than traditional centralized offices. In some instances, information technology is changing the character of the work that gets done, and it will continue to do so. Telenetworking is itself a major industry that offers job opportunities to many people.
Not all the applications of this technology will be in the workplace. There will be many opportunities to apply it to education, to politics and governance, and to avocational and recreational activities as well. People will have access to computer networks in the future, whether they actively seek it or not, simply by virtue of the fact that televisions will be designed to serve not only as one-way delivery systems for broadcast TV but also as
two-way terminals that can both bring information into the home and provide users with the means of transmitting to a network.
The opportunities for human factors research relating to this technology are many and varied. By way of illustrating the diverse nature of the problems, we will focus on three general problem areas: person-computer interaction, person-to-person communication, and what, for want of a better term, we will call "virtualization." We will mention a few research opportunities in each of these areas. The possibilities for human factors involvement in this field include these examples, but also extend way beyond them.
Psychologists and human factors researchers have given a great deal of attention to the topic of person-computer interaction. Most of the research that has been done has focused on the question of how to facilitate it, how—through improvements in the designs of interfaces and interactive techniques—to make the interaction more natural and more effective. This problem is of undoubted importance and deserves continued attention.
Terminal and Interface Design
An obvious problem will be improving the design of terminals that give people access to computing resources and of the interfaces through which people communicate with information resources. This has been a major focus of human factors research since computer-based systems began to be used widely by people other than computer scientists and system developers (Nickerson, 1986).
Most terminals today depend primarily on two-dimensional visual displays as output devices and on typewriter-like keyboards, typically complemented with a pointing and drawing instrument, such as a mouse or trackball, for input. The effective exploitation of other input-output modalities and methods will become an increasingly important challenge as the community of users of terminals that provide access to computer networks continues to expand and as technology widens the range of practical input-output options. Speech will become an increasingly feasible option for both input and output, for example (Makhoul et al., 1990; Weischedel et al., 1990). So will "walk-around," three-dimensional, "virtual-reality" representations of objects and environments with which users can interact (Durlach and Mavor, 1995). How fully the technological possibilities in these and related areas are realized will depend, to a large extent, on how effectively the numerous human factors issues that pertain to them are addressed.
Information Finding and Utilization
Realization of the potential benefits that can come from the connectivity to information resources provided by computer networks will require the development of a variety of users' tools. Physical access to very large information repositories—the electronic equivalent of major libraries, for example—will be of little value unless users have effective methods for getting at the information they need or want without spending an undue amount of time and effort in unproductive search. As Bromley (1986:628) has put it:
More information than we can ever conceivably want will be available to us within seconds. What do we do with it? How do we condense, correlate, and sort it so that humans can base decisions on it? This is one of the major challenges facing all science, all society.
There already exist many large electronic databases that serve a variety of purposes and special interests: electronic funds transfer, airline reservations, stock price quotations, credit card and check authorization, crime investigation, scientific research, and numerous others. Databases that hold the results of DNA sequencing research or the astrophysical data collected by space-probing satellites are growing very rapidly and are expected to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Ensuring prospective users easy access to these databases is important, and achieving this goal becomes increasingly difficult as the amount of data in the databases grows.
There is a need for tools that will facilitate information access both in the narrow sense—access by specialists to the focused databases that serve their special interests—and in the broad sense—access by nonspecialists to information that is available to the public through news media, libraries, and general-purpose information services to which anyone can subscribe. There is also opportunity for innovative work on information representation and presentation—hypertext systems that include multimodal representations provide a hint of the possibilities—and on the design of navigation aids to help users move around effectively and efficiently in multidimensional data-rich environments. For more on the topic of information access and organization, see Chapter 7.
Personal Information Management
Most people, over the course of their lives, acquire a variety of types of information that they need or desire to retain for their personal use or reference: legal documents, medical records, financial papers, recipes, books, letters, pictures, and so on. All of this information is, principle, storable
in digital form, and in the future more and more of it will be delivered and retained electronically (or photonically). Also, because of the existence of computer networks and the connectivity to information sources they represent, people may acquire much more information that they wish to retain for personal use than they do now.
If people are to efficiently manage large amounts of information in personal electronic repositories, if they are to keep electronic files accurate, timely, and retrievable and not find this a burdensome chore, they will need some tools and methods designed for this purpose. Simply replacing paper files with electronic files does not ensure greater accessibility to information. Although the computer gives one the potential for handling much larger databases much more efficiently, it does not rule out the possibility of creating chaos. Moreover, because of the ease with which electronically stored information can be erased, either intentionally or inadvertently, special precautions must be taken to protect personally valued information.
The design of information systems to serve the personal needs of individuals represents a challenge to both software producers and human factors specialists. And this will become increasingly important as more and more people gain access to computer networks and to the ever-expanding collection of information sources to which they connect.
In addition to the need for tools to facilitate the organization of electronic information for retention, maintenance, and ease of access and use, there will be a need for new methods for coping with the information overload that connectivity to electronic mail, electronic bulletin boards, and other information resources can produce. Heavy users of such resources often develop their own techniques for keeping the amount of information they have to attend to within acceptable bounds. The need for approaches that are demonstrably effective and usable by nontechnical users will grow as the potential connectivity of the ordinary citizen to information sources of various sorts increases.
Attitudes and Beliefs About Computers
One question that has not received the attention it deserves is, what attitudes and beliefs do people have about the computer systems with which they interact and how are those attitudes and beliefs are affected by their interactions? Weizenbaum (1976) has expressed amazement at, and considerable discomfort with, the seriousness and intensity of the interactions that many people had with his Rogerian "Eliza" program. He and others have questioned the advisability of giving people the impression that the systems with which they communicate are smarter than they really are.
There is some evidence that people are more willing to disclose information, including information about socially frowned-upon behavior or attitudes,
on a computer-administered questionnaire than in a face-to-face interview (Kiesler and Sproull, 1986; Sproull and Kiesler, 1991). There are several possible explanations for this, but so far they must be considered speculative.
Several observers have raised the question of how the ubiquity of computers and computer-based systems, and their increasing ability to do things that were once considered uniquely human, will affect the way we perceive ourselves (Turkle, 1984; Roszak, 1986). The more that people with little understanding of how computers work have occasion to interact with these systems, the more relevant and important this question becomes. What can be done to increase the likelihood that people's conceptualizations of what computer-based systems can do and how they do it are reasonably accurate, or at least not inaccurate in destructive ways?
In the past, human factors researchers gave more attention to person-computer communication than to computer-mediated communication between and among people. This is not surprising, as the facilitation of interpersonal communication was not seen as a primary application of computer technology until fairly recently. With the development and rapid growth of computer networks, however, it has become apparent that facilitating communication between and among people is one of the most powerful applications that this technology can have. Among the obvious examples of such applications are electronic mail, electronic bulletin boards, and computer-based teleconferencing.
Electronic mail (E-mail) is a new form of interpersonal communication that has been made possible by the existence of computer networks. It should be studied from a human factors point of view. To date, E-mail facilities have been used primarily by people who are "computer literate," in particular those who use computers regularly either in their work or for avocational purposes. It seems highly likely, however, that the use of E-mail will increase in the future and that the user community will include many people who do not now use computers for either work or play.
There are many research questions relating to E-mail and its use. Who uses it? And for what purposes? How accessible is it? How much training do people who do not use computers for other purposes need in order to be able to use E-mail effectively? How do the usability and usefulness of specific E-mail systems depend on the details of the systems' designs and operating characteristics? Does computer-mediated communication have
any unique characteristics, and if so, what are they? To what extent does it replace other means of communication for its users? What effects, if any, does E-mail have on the operation of organizations whose members use it daily? How does interpersonal communication through E-mail resemble or differ from communication via other media?
Clearly, electronic messages do not contain many of the nonlinguistic cues (e.g., "body language") that often convey nuances of feelings and attitudes of participants in face-to-face or voice interactions, and they typically lack most of the clues to senders' status or position that are often found in letterheads or signature blocks (Sproull and Kiesler, 1991). Computer-mediated communication systems also tend to be opaque to personal characteristics—unattractive physical appearance, speech impediments, behavioral anomalies—that sometimes, unfortunately, inhibit effective communication on a person-to-person basis (Zuboff, 1988). Similarly, they filter out the advantages that aspects of appearance—physical attractiveness, an authoritative voice, an imposing demeanor—can provide. In general, they have been seen by many observers as user "equalizers" in the sense that they mask many of the factors that differentiate people in face-to-face contact (Hiltz et al., 1980; Vallee et al., 1974; Zuboff, 1988).
Sproull and Kiesler point out that the weakening of social differences is not unique to computer-mediated communication, but is seen, albeit to lesser degrees, in other technologies (1991a:43):
The telephone eliminates visual cues and therefore reduces one's ability to deduce the other person's social position and to grasp the importance of social differences in the interaction. Over the telephone, though, one retrieves some social information in nonvisual form. The secretary who answers or places calls, variations in standard ways of greeting, and pauses and tone of voice all convey social information.
Several years ago, Uhlig (1977) suggested the need for an etiquette of computer-based message technology that would probably differ from the etiquette that applies to more traditional forms of communication. Has such an etiquette emerged? Is one emerging? Is E-mail less constrained by traditional social conventions than is face-to-face or voice communication? Does it evoke more extreme positions and the venting of anger more openly (Kiesler, 1984; Kiesler et al., 1984; Short et al., 1976)?
Sproull and Kiesler (1991) suggest that because E-mail is relatively impoverished in social cues and shared experience, it lends itself to communication in which the participants produce messages that display less social awareness than face-to-face or voice communication. Reduced social awareness is seen in "messages characterized by ignoring social boundaries, self revelation, and blunt remarks" (p. 39). People tend to be more open and less inhibited when using electronic mail than in face-to-face or voice communication,
Sproull and Kiesler argue, because the possibility of a critical audience is less apparent in the former case: "Because a person composing an electronic message lacks tangible reminders of his or her audience, the writer can easily forget the forms appropriate for communicating with that audience" (p. 49).
We know that interpersonal communication—face to face, by telephone, or in writing—is by far the most common form of office activity (Bair, 1987; Helander, 1985; Panko, 1982). We know too that a large part of the typical manager's job is communication, much of which occurs in meetings and group settings (Mintzberg, 1973). Whether or not widespread use of E-mail will affect the amount of time devoted to communication, patterns of communication that did not exist before will probably emerge. One can speculate about this, but it would be useful to have some observational studies of the patterns of use of actual E-mail communities, of which many already exist. Because this form of communication is new, new observational and experimental techniques may be needed to study it. The general question of how computer and communication technologies will affect the ways in which people communicate with each other is extremely important and deserves considerable research effort (National Research Council, 1984).
One question of special interest is how the use of E-mail and related technologies can be expected to affect the productivity of their users. At this early stage in the development and use of these facilities, it is not possible to say anything definitive on this question. One might guess that use of E-mail would improve productivity, since E-mail can greatly facilitate communication among all the members of a functional group. Of course, it would be naive to assume that all the E-mail communication that is done directly serves the goals of the organization; however, there may be indirect benefits even from the facilitation of communication for purely personal purposes. Some preliminary data on the question have been reported. Sproull and Kiesler (1991) found a high correlation between the degree to which a group used E-mail to coordinate its activities and the group's productivity. They note that correlation does not demonstrate a cause-effect relationship, but they appear to believe there to be one.
Electronic Bulletin Boards
An electronic bulletin board can be thought of as a special form of electronic mail, and much of what has been said in the preceding section about E-mail applies to electronic bulletin boards as well. The electronic bulletin board is a sufficiently important innovation, however, to warrant special mention.
Like a conventional bulletin board, an electronic bulletin board is a public medium; messages posted on it can be read by anyone who has
access to it. Also like conventional bulletin boards, electronic bulletin boards serve a variety of communities of users. The users of a conventional bulletin board might be the occupants of a building, the patrons of a store, the residents of a neighborhood; those of an electronic bulletin board might be the employees of a corporation, the students and faculty of a university, the users of a computer network service.
Perhaps the most obvious advantage of electronic bulletin boards over conventional bulletin boards is that users do not have to go to a particular place to read or post messages. Because boards can be accessed from essentially anywhere, the user community for a particular board can be defined by common interests rather than by a common location. Other advantages include the ease with which the postings on an electronic bulletin board can be scanned, excerpted, corrected, elaborated, and processed in many other ways.
Individuals can use electronic bulletin boards in a variety of ways and to varying extents. One may read notices only, or one may post some as well. Some users read all the notices that are posted, checking the postings at fairly regular intervals; others scan them only occasionally. Replies to ''Does anybody know?" questions are sometimes posted; often they are sent privately to the questions via E-mail. Patterns of communication that spontaneously emerge include multiperson dialogues, perhaps initiated by a question or comment that evoked responses from several people.
The existence of electronic bulletin boards could have a great effect on the way people communicate with each other in the future. As more and more people acquire access to computer networks, they will also be acquiring access to widely distributed communities with common interests. What this will mean to people's daily lives remains to be seen. One opportunity for human factors research is the observational study of the evolution of this new mode of communication. Another is developing an understanding of this technology and of the needs and preferences of its users as a step toward promoting design decisions that will enhance the usefulness of electronic bulletin boards to the general population.
The idea of using network technology to hold conferences among "attendees" located in different places has been of interest since the early 1960s (Bavelas et al., 1963). Despite this long-standing interest and despite the implementation of several experimental systems, teleconferencing has not yet become widely used, even when face-to-face meetings involve the expense and inconvenience of considerable travel. This may be due to a combination of technical and nontechnical factors (Nickerson, 1986).
Some of the technical limitations of teleconferencing systems are being
eased as networks acquire sufficient bandwidth to support the real-time transmission of sufficiently high-fidelity video representations of participants' images to create a realistic impression of an actual gathering. Whether this will ensure the maturing of teleconferencing into an effective and widely used technology remains to be seen. It seems likely that the acceptability of this technology will depend, to a large degree, on the kinds of users' tools that teleconferencing systems offer to facilitate group problem solving and decision making.
The dynamics of electronic "meetings" differ from those of face-to-face meetings in a variety of ways. For example, many of the factors that determine which participants play dominant roles in face-to-face meetings appear to be less influential in electronic meetings. These include gender (McGuire et al., 1987) and status (Dubrovsky et al., 1991). One might expect similar diminution of the influence of age, race, and physical appearance.
Sproull and Kiesler (1991) suggest that consensus is more difficult to achieve with electronic than with face-to-face groups. Is this because people are more susceptible to peer pressure in a face-to-face group than when communicating electronically? If so, the possibility arises that a face-to-face meeting is more likely than an electronic one to result in what appears to be a consensus, but in fact is not.
It seems reasonable to expect that electronic meetings will differ substantially from face-to-face meetings for some time to come, perhaps indefinitely. We would also expect, however, that the dynamics of electronic meetings will change as the technology continues to be developed and enhanced. Ideally, we would like the technology to develop in such a way that electronic meetings come to have all, or most, of the advantages of face-to-face meetings and some others that come from the availability of facilitative tools as well. Realization of this desire will require a better understanding than we now have of the factors that can determine the relative effectiveness of working groups.
As used here, the term virtualization connotes the development of capabilities that make it possible for people to function at a distance from needed resources or to interact with simulated representations of objects and environments much as they would with the real things. Capabilities of these types are basic to such ideas and phenomena as telecommuting, computer-supported cooperative work, and virtual or artificial realities.
Whether information technology, generally, has yet had a significant
impact on productivity in the workplace is a matter of some debate (see Chapters 1 and 8). The picture is clouded in part by (a) the difficulty of measuring productivity—especially white-collar productivity—in completely unambiguous ways and (b) the fact that information technology, by virtue of its pervasiveness, has many indirect effects that are hard to isolate and track.
There seems little doubt, however, that information technology, particularly computer-based communication networks, has the potential to enhance productivity greatly. The need to maintain large inventories of materials, parts, and finished products has a negative effect on productivity because it represents a major component of the cost of getting products into the hands of users. "Just-in-time" manufacturing reduces the need for such inventories, but it depends on fast and effective communication techniques. The substitution of the transmission of information for the movement of people and material is another way in which computer networks can contribute to increased productivity, because this means the delivery of the same services at the expenditure of fewer natural or economic resources.
Using computer networks to enable people to work at home or in "virtual offices" outside traditional centralized office buildings has been of interest for some time. The idea of teleworking, or "telecommuting," was promoted by Nilles et al. (1976) shortly after the first oil crisis of the early 1970s, partly on the grounds that bringing jobs to people electronically, rather than transporting people to jobs, would have the doubly beneficial effect of conserving energy and saving transportation costs. It would also help the environment by reducing air pollution from vehicle emissions, traffic congestion, and office space requirements.
According to one estimate, perhaps as many as 15 or 16 million people in the United States could be considered teleworkers as of 1989 (Martin, 1989). However, the percentage of the workforce, especially the white-collar workforce, that could work from home is believed to be many times larger than is currently doing so (Harkness, 1977; Kraut, 1987). How fully the potential for telework will be realized will depend, in part, on how effectively a variety of human factors issues are addressed. Some of these issues have to do with the design of devices and software—the tools that make telework technically feasible. Others, however, relate to less tangible, but no less important, aspects of the work situation that help determine not only productivity but worker satisfaction.
Telework has become a symbol of liberation to some people and of isolation to others (Huws et al., 1990). How it is perceived depends on the individual worker's circumstances and the details of the arrangement between worker and employer. Among the issues that appear to contribute to worker satisfaction with telework are whether the worker is considered an independent contractor or a company employee, whether work is monitored
electronically, and how compensation is determined. This is not to suggest that all workers prefer the same arrangement (Chamot and Zalusky, 1985; Gregory, 1985). Telework situations differ from more traditional work arrangements in many respects, some obvious, some subtle; studies are needed to provide a better understanding of the variables that determine productivity and job quality from the worker's point of view.
Computer-Supported Cooperative Work
With the help of computer networks, colleagues can cooperate at a distance in ways that were impossible until fairly recently. People in widely separated locations can collaborate, for example, in real time on writing a paper; all the authors can critique the same draft and have the benefit of all the critiques as soon as they are made. They can, in effect, share the same "writing surface" despite their geographical separation.
Network technology has the potential to bring expertise to bear on problems that are located someplace other than where the expert or experts happen to be. A team of experts, all located at different places, might collaboratively address a problem requiring their expertise. In theory, at least, high-resolution displays, coupled with tele-operator control technology could make it possible for a remotely located surgeon not only to give advice to on-site personnel but even to perform operating procedures.
How far such innovation can be taken remains to be seen. There is little doubt that the ubiquity of computer networks will make expertise, like many other things, less constrained by space and time than it now is. The effectiveness with which geographically separated individuals will be able to collaborate, via computer networks, on complex tasks that draw on their combined skills will depend, to no small degree, on how well the many human factors issues relating to the design of the underlying systems are resolved.
The telephone created a telepresence of sorts. When two people talk on the phone, they are in each other's presence in a real, if rudimentary, sense, even if they are located half a world away from each other. The higher the quality of the voice transmission and the fewer the interruptions, the greater the sense of presence is. Film and television can also create a sense of presence; watching a film or televised event, one can sometimes get the sense of "being there" to the extent of forgetting that what one is looking at is a picture on a screen.
One goal of virtual reality technology is to increase the sense of presence considerably beyond what the current state of the art of communication
technology permits. It would add, for example, the sense of touch and would also give the recipient of the sensory information the ability to move the sensing devices around in the experienced context. By moving one's head and eyes, for example, one would cause the optical sensors to move in a corresponding way. This would give the recipient control over where to look, much as one would have if at the remotely located scene.
As the bandwidth of computer networks continues to increase, it will be possible to transmit an increasingly detailed and veridical representation of a physical situation to a remotely located individual. It seems unlikely, however, that it will be possible, at least anytime soon, to represent most nontrivial situations in sufficient detail that one could not tell the virtual reality from the real thing. Fortunately, this degree of realism is not necessary for most applications, but the question of how real (in appearance) is real enough is open and probably must be answered on a case-by-case basis. Representations of reality that would be more than adequate for some applications might be inadequate for others. There is a need for work on the question of how to determine the degree of fidelity required in specific instances.
Our main purpose in this chapter has been to point out that computer networking and associated developments have profound implications for human communication and represent some significant challenges and opportunities for human factors research. We have considered only a few of the research questions that arise and these only in a cursory way. The need to focus more attention on computer-based networking will increase as the technology for it continues to develop and its applications continue to expand.
In keeping with the overall theme of this book, we have focused primarily on the future of networking and the prospects of extensive connectivity of people to information resources of many types and of people to people independently of geographical location. It should also be noted, however, that there are many opportunities for human factors work on the networking systems that currently exist. The evidence suggests that the currently operating electronic information resources are not utilized as effectively as they could be even by people who have easy access to them and could presumably benefit from making greater use of them (General Accounting Office, 1989). In this regard, see also Chapters 4 and 7.
There can be little doubt that the increasingly widespread use of communications technology in the workplace is changing the nature of many jobs and the knowledge and skill requirements for performing them. This
technology is affecting jobs throughout industry and at all levels of responsibility—from clerical workers who have to master a variety of computer-based document preparation and information management tools to high-level managers who have to learn to deal with new patterns of intra-and intercompany communication, more fluid organizational structures, and challenges stemming from the innovative exploitation of communication technology by competitors. Studies are needed both to help us understand the changes that are taking place and to anticipate the likely job-skill requirements of the future.
But the effects of computer networking will be felt far beyond the workplace. We need to better understand its implications for education; for civic, political, and personal decision making; for leisure and daily life outside the workplace. What might it mean for people who are confined to their homes, to hospitals, to nursing homes, to prisons? How can it be exploited to give shut-ins greater access to other people, to information resources, and to the world in general?
What must be done to ensure the usefulness and usability of this technology? Special and general-purpose databanks will be increasingly accessible through computer networks; information services will proliferate, as will network-accessible expert systems, electronic consultants, and electronic advice givers. How can such resources be made approachable for people who are intimidated by computer technology, for people who cannot type, for people who are disadvantaged in one way or another? How can we minimize the chances that these resources will widen the gap between haves and have nots? Between better-educated and less well-educated people? Between people who are well connected to computer resources and people who are not?
What are some of the major risks inherent in this technology? What are the computer network analogues to nuisance telephone calls? To mail and telemarketing fraud? What safeguards can be built against them? How should people be encouraged to think about networks, data structures, and information spaces? What sorts of metaphors or mental models will be useful and not misleading and detrimental?
Communication is a fundamental human activity. Technology has affected it in numerous ways in the past. The proliferation of computer networks has the potential to affect it greatly in the future. Already it is possible to identify many human factors questions that are raised by telenetworking and associated developments; many more are likely to arise as the impact of the continuing development of these technologies on our daily lives becomes increasingly evident.
Bair, J.H. 1987 User needs for office systems solutions. Pp. 177-194 in R.E. Kraut, ed., Technology and the Transformation of White Collar Work . Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum.
Bavelas, A., T. Belden, E. Glenn, J. Orlansky, J. Schwartz, and H.W. Sinaiko 1963 Teleconferencing: Summary of a Preliminary Research Project. Study S-138. Arlington, Va.: Institute for Defense Analysis.
Bell, T.E. 1989 Telecommunications. IEEE Spectrum 26(1):41-43.
Bromley, B.A. 1986 Physics: natural philosophy and invention. American Scientist 74:622-639.
Bush, V. 1945 As we may think. The Atlantic Monthly. 176(July):101-108.
Chamot, D., and J.L. Zalusky 1985 Use and misuse of workstations in the home. Pp. 76-84 in M.H. Olson, ed., Office Workstations in the Home. Board on Telecommunications and Computer Applications, National Research Council . Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Davies, D.W., and D.L.A. Barber 1973 Communications Network for Computers. New York: Wiley.
Denning, P.J. 1989a The science of computing: the ARPANET after 20 years. American Scientist 77:530-534. 1989b The science of computing: Worldnet. American Scientist 77:432-434.
Desurvire, E. 1992 Lightwave communications: the fifth generation. Scientific American 266(1):114-121.
Dubrovsky, V., S. Kiesler, and B. Sethna 1991 The equalization phenomenon: status effects in computer-mediated and face-to-face decision making groups. Human Computer Interaction 6:119-146.
Durlach, N.I., and A.S. Mavor, eds. 1995 Virtual Reality: Scientific and Technological Challenges. Committee on Virtual Reality Research and Development, National Research Council. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Forester, T. 1987 High-Tech Society: The Story of the Information Technology Revolution . Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
General Accounting Office 1989 Cancer Treatment: National Cancer Institute's Role in Encouraging the Use of Breakthroughs. Washington, D.C.: General Accounting Office.
Gore, A. 1991 Infrastructure for the global village. Scientific American 265(3):150-153.
Gould, J.D., L. Alfaro, R. Finn, B. Haupt, and A. Minuto 1987 Reading from CRT displays can be as fast as reading from paper. Human Factors 29:497-507.
Gregory, J. 1985 Clerical workers and new office technologies. Pp. 112-124 in M.H. Olson ed., Office Workstations in the Home. Board on Telecommunications and Computer Applications, National Research Council. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Harkness, R.C. 1977 Technology Assessment of Telecommunications-Transportation Interactions . Menlo Park, Calif.: Stanford Research Institute.
Heart, F. 1975 The ARPANET network. In R.L. Grimsdale and F.F. Kuo, eds., Computer Communication Networks: 1973 Proceedings of the NATO Advanced Study Institute. Leyden, Netherlands: Noordhoff International Publishing.
Heart, F., A. McKenzie, J. McQuillan, and D. Walden 1978 ARPANET Completion Report. Cambridge, Mass.: Bolt Beranek and Newman.
Helander, M.G. 1985 Emerging office automation systems. Human Factors 27(1):3-20.
Herman, R., S.A. Ardekani, and J.H. Ausubel 1989 Dematerialization. Pp. 50-69 in J.H. Ausubel and H.E. Sladovich, eds., Technology and Environment. National Academy of Engineering. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Hiltz, S.R., K. Johnson, C. Aronovitsh, and M. Turoff 1980 Face-to-Face Versus Computerized Conferences: A Controlled Experiment . Report 12. Newark: New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Huws, U., W.B. Korte, and S. Robinson 1990 Telework: Towards the Elusive Office. New York: Wiley.
Kahn, R.E. 1987 Networks for advanced computing. Scientific American 257(4):136-143.
Kiesler, S. 1984 Computer mediation of communication. American Psychologist 39:1123-1134.
Kiesler, S., and L.S. Sproull 1986 Response effects in the electronic survey. Public Opinion Quarterly 50:402-413.
Kiesler, S., J. Siegel, and T. W. McGuire 1984 Social psychological aspects of computer-mediated communication. American Psychologist 39:1123-1134.
Kraut, R.E. 1987 Social issues and white-collar technology: an overview. Pp. 1-21 in R.E. Kraut, ed., Technology and the Transformation of White-Collar Work. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum.
Lemelshtrich, N. 1990 The expression of opinions through the new electronic mass media: an experimental and cybernetic view. In N. Moray, W.R. Ferrell, and W.B. Rouse, eds., Robotics, Control and Society. New York: Taylor and Francis.
Licklider, J.C.R. 1965 Libraries of the Future. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Makhoul, J., F. Jelinek, L. Rabiner, C. Weinstein, and V. Zue 1990 Spoken language systems. Annual Review of Computer Science 4:481-501.
Marrill, T., and L.A. Roberts 1966 Cooperative network of timesharing computers. Pp. 425-431 in Proceedings of the AFIPS 1966 Sprint Joint Computer Conference. Arlington, Va.: American Federation of Information Processing Societies Press.
Martin, A. 1989 There's no place like home … to work. Human Resource Executive July:50-51.
McGuire, T., S. Kiesler, and J. Siegel 1987 Group and computer-mediated discussion effects in risk decision making. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 52:917-930.
Mintzberg, H. 1973 The Nature of Managerial Work. New York: Harper and Row.
National Research Council 1984 Research Needs on the Interaction Between Information Systems and Their Users: Report of a Worksop. Committee on Human Factors. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. 1988 Toward a National Research Network. National Research Network Review Committee, Computer Science and Technology Board. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Nickerson, R.S. 1986 Using Computers: Human Factors in Information Technology. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 1992 Looking Ahead: Human Factor Challenges in a Changing World . Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum. 1994 Electronic bulletin boards: a case study in computer-mediated communication. Interacting With Computers 6:117-134.
Nilles, J.M., F.R. Carlson, P. Gray, and G. Hanneman 1976 Telecommuting—an alternative to urban transportation congestion. IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics 6:77-84.
Panko, R. 1982 Serving managers and professionals. Pp. 97-103 in AFIPS Office Automation Conference Proceedings. Arlington, Va.: American Federation of Information Processing Societies Press.
Parker, E. 1973 Technological change and the mass media. Pp. 619-645 in I. Pool, W. Schramm, F. Frey, N. Maccoby, and E. Parker, eds., Handbook of Communication. Chicago, Ill.: Rand McNally.
Partridge, C. 1990 A faster data delivery. Unix Review 8(3):43-48.
Pool, R. 1993 Beyond databases and e-mail. Science 261(August):841-843.
Roszak, T. 1986 The Cult of Information: The Folklore of Computers and the True Art of Thinking. New York: Pantheon Books.
Short, J., E. Williams, and B. Christie 1976 A Social Psychology of Telecommunications. New York: Wiley.
Shumate, P.W., Jr. 1989 Optical fibers reach into homes. IEEE Spectrum 26(2):43-47.
Sproull, L., and S. Kiesler 1991 Connections: New Ways of Working in the Networked Organization . Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Turkle, S. 1984 The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Uhlig, R.P. 1977 Human factors in computer message systems. Datamation 23(4):120-126.
Vallee, J., R. Johansen, R.H. Randolph, and A.C. Hastings 1974 Group Communication Through Computers. Vol. 2: A Study of Social Effects. Report R-33. Menlo Park, Calif.: Institute for the Future.
Waldrop, M.M. 1988 A landmark in speech recognition. Science 240:1615.
Weischedel, R., J. Carbonell, B. Grosz, W. Lehnert, M. Marcus, R. Perrault, and R. Wilensky 1990 Natural language processing. Annual Review of Computer Science 4:435-452.
Weizenbaum, J. 1976 Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment to Calculation . San Francisco: Freeman.
Zuboff, S. 1988 In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power . New York: Basic Books.