Chapter 5: Social Interaction

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The main goals of the chapter are to accomplish the following:

  • Explain what is meant by social interaction.
  • Describe the social mechanisms that people use to communicate and collaborate.
  • Explain what social presence means.
  • Give an overview of new technologies intended to facilitate collaboration and group participation.
  • Discuss how social media has changed how we keep in touch, make contacts, and manage our social and working lives.
  • Outline examples of new social phenomena that are a result of being able to connect online.


People are inherently social: we live together, work together, learn together, play together, interact and talk with each other, and socialize. A number of technologies have been developed specifically to enable us to persist in being social when physically apart from one another, many of which have now become part of the fabric of society. These include the widespread use of smartphones, video chat, social media, gaming, messaging, and telepresence. Each of these afford different ways of supporting how people connect.

There are many ways to study what it means to be social. In this chapter, we focus on how people communicate and collaborate face-to-face and remotely in their social, work, and everyday lives—with the goal of providing models, insights, and guidelines to inform the design of “social” technologies that can better support and extend them. A diversity of communication technologies is also examined that have changed the way people live—how they keep in touch, make friends, and coordinate their social and work networks. The conversation mechanisms that have conventionally been used in face-to-face interactions are described and discussed in relation to how they have been adapted for the various kinds of computer-based conversations that now take place at a distance. Examples of social phenomena that have emerged as a result of social engagement at scale are also presented.