Tutkimusraportteja — Working Papers 3

http://www.uta.fi/hyper/julkaisut/b/fitv03c.pdf

Mediated Person-to-Person(s) Communication Model
Inger Ekman
inger.ekman@uta.fi

Petri Lankoski
petri.lankoski@uta.fi

November 2003 University of Tampere Hypermedia Laboratory http://www.uta.fi/hyper/

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Abstract
As people change from face-to-face communication to mediated communication the form of representation changes. Distortion of the message in face-to-face communication is something we have learned to live with and control to some extent by the way we represent ourselves, and our message, to the outside world. When the message is being mediated and represented to the recipient by a communications device, we want the same control. Without sense of such control, people may feel out of control of the message they are transmitting. The person-to-person(s) communication model describes the communication process and helps designers in identifying the different elements causing distortion of the message.

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Table of contents
Abstract 1. Introduction 2. Approach 3. Theory 3.1. Mediated person-to-person(s) communication model 3.2. Message 3.3. Distortions by the sender’s user interface (UI) and communication context 3.4. Distortions by service and technical aspects 3.5. Distortions by user interface 2 3.6. The effect of distortions 4. Design issues 4.1. Distortions by sending and receiving interfaces 4.2. Distortions by service and technical aspects 4.3. Communicating distortions to the user References 2 4 6 9 9 10 10 11 12 13 15 15 16 16 19

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1.

Introduction
In any mediated communication situation, the medium will leave its mark on the message (Hall 1998). With a smoke signal, the signalling system itself will consist information about the sender’s tribe. The medium’s effect is inevitable; the sender cannot communicate using it without the effects being present. With e-mail, the message will have additional information besides the message: message headers and sending time to mention a few. The difference between smoke signals and e-mail applications is that the user will immediately see the effects of the smoke signal system to the message. Face-to-face communication relies heavily on other than primary messages to transmit meaning, e.g. people use body language and tone of voice to convey meaning. The mediated communication appliances we use today also try to give us a broader scale of tools for expressing ourselves. New technology communication devices provide the users with quite a broad means to convey information. In theory, the tools we use for communication can bring us quite close to the original, i.e. face-to-face context. In a sense, even face-to-face communication is mediated. Our body takes the role as a medium, which we use to convey our message (Bolter & Grusin 2000; Haraway 1991; Bourdieu 1991). Communication and appearance are our way of expressing to the world what we really are. In theory, we have total control of the message we are sending. In reality, most of our communicative messages get added to: involuntary body movements, the tone of voice and physical appearance load the message with extra content and structure, telling more about us that we initially wanted it to. As Stanley Cavell (1979) notes on the way films represent us: “We are at the mercy of what the medium captures of us, and of what it chooses, or refuses, to hold for us.” In a mediated communications situation it is the messages in the form they are received, that represent us. Whatever our intent, the message we produce is never the same as the one being received. Thus, any medium will affect how we are being represented in the other end. We avoid it only by avoiding communication. With our body as a medium, we have, to some point, gotten used to the distortions it causes and, on the other hand, gone to some extents to control these. People go on diets and dye their hair, buy clothes and rehearse speeches in order to achieve maximal control over their bodies as media and, consequently, the messages they are conveying (Adams & Sasse 2001; Haraway 1991). In a technology-mediated communications situation we similarly want control over, or at very least

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knowledge of, the modifications the medium does to our message. This paper aims at identifying the modifications the service does to the message and thus the representation it is giving of the user. We analyse mediated communication as a process of message distortion. With distortions we refer to any change of the message as it moves from its original form to a represented form. These distortions are not always unwanted; some of them are useful and many are inevitable due to the technical aspect of mediated communication. They do, however, need to be identified and made known to the user.

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2.

Approach
The mediated person-to-person(s) communication model derives from our study on user interfaces in the light of communication theory. Our analysis is based on Hall’s (1998) theory of encoding and decoding, and the communication model presented by Shannon and Weaver (1949). Out of several models applicable to the examination of mediated communication (e.g. Gerbner 1956; Jakobson 1960; Lasswell 1948; Newcomb 1953), these are most clearly focused on the elements of the communication structure important from a user interface design point of view, which in our opinion makes them worth further exploration.

Figure 1: Hall’s model of Mass Media Communication.

Hall’s theory concerns the communication situation in mass media. It shows how discourse affects the production of a message, as the message has to be formed according to the rules of the medium, for which it is produced. Thus, a news event is encoded in different ways depending on whether the medium is e.g. television or a daily newspaper. Discourse similarly affects the way the message is being interpreted as the medium itself dictates the discourse in the light of which messages are read in the context of that specific medium.
Figure 2: The communication model by Shannon and Weaver.

The communication model presented by Shannon and Weaver approaches the transmission of a message from a
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rather technical viewpoint. The focus is on the message being transmitted from the sending to the receiving device. During this transmission, the message is affected by noise, which distorts the message and limits its capabilities to fulfil its original purpose. Although Shannon and Weaver were mainly concerned with the technical aspects of the message signal, later interpretations allow a broader perspective. Thus the notion of noise can be seen as anything from raw technical distortions of the transmitted signal to anything affecting how the original message, as intended by the user, is conveyed. Mediated person-to-person communication makes use of similar structures to those present in mass media. Messages have to be encoded and decoded in a similar way as the medium restricts the way things can be communicated. Compared with the situation in mass communication, however, the important factor in person-to-person communication is how the technical process of encoding and decoding affects the message. The effect of the technology in our message becomes, when visible to other people, a part of the presentation of us, which makes it important from the users’ point of view (Donath 1996; Turkle 1997; Adams 2000; Adams & Sasse 2001). Previous research of our own has also shown that knowing what the device is revealing of you to others is an important factor of usability (Ermi & Patamaa 2001; Donath 2001). Combining Hall’s theory with the communication model of Shannon and Weaver’s, we have analyzed communicational services as IRC (Internet Relay Chat), mobile telephony and e-mail applications and interviews concerning emotions and security aspects when using personal navigational devices (Lankoski 2001). Lankoski and Patamaa (2001) have earlier applied Hall’s theory to encompass the communication between user and interface, and shown how various interface discourses affect the way information is being produced and, on the other hand, interpreted in the context of different user cultures. We now focus on the technical aspects of mediated communication and break down the process to identify the elements causing noise to the original message that a user is trying to convey, as suggested by Shannon and Weaver’s model. The important thing to notice is that in a communication situation, technical noise is interpreted according to the discourse of the interface and thus it can become significant on other levels than a technical one. We analyse these effects and categorize them into distortions caused by the sending and receiving interfaces (Hall’s encoding and decoding) and on the other hand the service transmitting the message (Shannon and Weaver’s source of noise). Our perspective does not exclude the argument that there are other effects on the message as well. These are however not due to the technical aspect of mediated communication and are not as such control-

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lable through the design of interfaces, although the design affects them as well, as pointed out e.g. by Hall (1998), Manovich (2001) and Kopomaa (2000). From a designer’s point of view, what can be affected by design is how the service and the sending interface communicate. Both of these elements are known at the design phase. Thus, the distortions they cause to the message are not all out of our control, but identifiable and thus they can also be extracted and shown to the user. By systematically analysing the elements distorting messages sent by the user, we have produced a model of the communication process that combines the focuses of both models, and helps identifying the distortions caused by the technical aspects of the medium. As Hall’s theory is applicable to the communication process as a whole, our model limits the focus and makes use of Hall’s insight to provide a detailed view of the interaction between the sending and receiving user interfaces and the communications service. We claim that it is possible to show the user the distortions of the message on the technical stage, and that showing them has a crucial effect on the usability and trustworthiness of the communications situation and service providing it.

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3.

Theory
The mediated person-to-person(s) communication model focuses on the effect of the technical structures in both the encoding and decoding process of the message. In the sender’s end, a message can be either a message written by the user or alternatively an action made by the user, e.g. that of moving into a mediated space. The decoded message on the receiver’s end is the presentation of the sender as seen by the receiver. The technical structures of the medium used for the communication inevitably affect the message the user is conveying. These effects can be identified and presented back to the user by the interface s/he is using to communicate hers/his message with. The rest of the decoding process is dependent on the receiving user’s interface and is therefore out of the designer’s reach. One can never be sure about how an outgoing message will be received after it has left the service. One can know, however, based on the service that is being used, what the service does to the message before it is interpreted by the receiver’s interface. For instance, take a situation where one user is using a text-based IRC-client and the other one is using Microsoft comic chat. The comic chat client will send information consisting of the person’s graphical “identity”, but the final representation of the user will still be distorted into a nongraphical form. The interface cannot tell how the sent information is eventually going to be received (as it can’t tell if the other person will be sitting by his/her computer and watch the incoming message, either). The interface should, however, inform the user of the fact, that s/he will be visible (in some form!) to another user, situated in the same mediated space.

3.1.

Mediated person-to-person(s) communication model

Figure 3: The Mediated Person-to-Person(s) Communication Model.

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In order to correctly read the person-to-person(s) communication model it is important to realize that every message ever made during a communication process goes through the whole model from left to right. This applies to all messages and so both communicators are at once both senders and recipients. When we talk about sender and recipient, these are used in a situational, not a static, sense.

3.2.

Message
A message is something happening along the user-service communications channel. The model identifies two types of messages: message 1 and message 2. Message 1 is the initial message produced by the sender according to the rules of the user interface, and message 2 is the distorted one, with modifications (additions, subtractions or both) made by the service. Message 1 can be either an ordinary message produced by the user or an action made by the user. Message 2 is the message sent by the service to the recipient. For instance, in a telephone conversation, the first message 1 is an action: it consists of the user dialling a number. The service turns this action into an attempt of connection to the dialled number (message 2). If the connection is established, the conversation can begin and both users say things at their end of the line (message 1), which are delivered through the connection to the recipient (message 2). In the end, the user will perform an action by hanging up (message 1), which will cause the phone connection to break (message 2). The important thing to notice is that all of the above, both actions and actual user-produced (e.g. written or spoken) messages are conveyed by the service, and also distorted in the process. Moreover, as the messages produced by the user in theory can be shown as such, actions always have to be turned into something else before being presented to the recipient. Thus the distortion of actions is inevitable whenever they are present, a fact that should not be overlooked in the design process.

3.3.

Distortions by the sender’s user interface (UI) and communication context
The interface used to communicate the message with affects the message in both how the user will attempt to write it and how s/he succeeds in writing it as s/he attempted to. The interface technically regulates what can be done with it. This influences what forms of communication the given medium brings about and affects the development of the communication culture (Hall 1998; Kopomaa 2000; Manovich 2001). The

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communication culture consecutively shapes the original attempts made by the user to express him/herself through the given medium. Communication culture and discourses generally affect how things are communicated in context of the particular service that is being used (Fiske 1999; Lankoski & Patamaa 2001). As communicating partners use different user interfaces, the technical differences become significant. For instance, a user’s mobile telephone might only support capital letters, and thus the user’s only option is to write his/her messages in capitals. SMS-messaging culture (SMSs are short messages for mobile phones), however, makes significance between replies like “Yes” and “YES”, the latter often being interpreted as shouting or, for that, enthusiasm. Then again, in case the message was intended as a shout, the user still has limited means of doing this, as all his/her other messages will be capital, as well (Kopomaa 2000; Picard 1997).

3.4.

Distortions by service and technical aspects
The service used for mediated communication can cause distortions in several ways. The distortions can affect both the content and the structure of the message. The distortions consist of something being added to or removed from the conveyed message. None of these distortions are exclusive and often they are co-occurring. When the user sends a message through a medium, its transmission requires some structure. In face-to-face communication, the structure is often spoken sentences, though body language plays a significant part in the communication process. When a message is being mediated through a technical device, some structure is always added to it. This is, in essence, any information the service sends as part of the message besides the content as produced by the sender. Sometimes these additions become visible when the receiver’s user interface cannot handle and make (sensible) use of all the data sent by the sender’s interface. This is, for instance, the case when the sender is using a visual IRC client and the receiver using a text-only client receives incomprehensible data about the sender’s visual status. Added structure might not always be automatically visible to the recipient, but the handling of incoming data is up to the recipients user interface. Thus all additions to message structure should be considered as at least potentially visible to the recipient. In a simple sense, the only distortion on message structure possible would seem to be addition. Often, however, some technical additions are assumed and that is why, in some cases, also subtractions of message structure seem to take place. Take for instance the act of a telephone call: mobile

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users are used to seeing the caller’s number. Thus, not showing the caller’s telephone number can be seen as a subtraction of structure even if it, in fact, is not literally so. In mobile telephony, people sometimes don’t bother introducing themselves as they rely on the message structure to do so for them. If the user doesn’t know that her/his number isn’t being shown to the recipient, this results in her/him feeling that the service is altering the message as s/he assumes that it will be conveyed with the rest of the message. As indicated by the example above, some of the structure of a message has become significant not only as message structure, but as content. It is often difficult to draw a clear line between what is message structure and what on the other hand is structure as message content. Some structure is always required to convey the message but on the other hand structure can be a significant part of the message itself. In a mediated communications context, e.g. a phone call, the knowledge of who is calling is both structure and content. Thus, if the caller’s telephone number isn’t shown, this can be seen as a subtraction of the structure but also of the content. An extreme case in which structure becomes content is when the sender’s actions themselves become messages conveyed by the service. This is the case when the action of entering or leaving a channel in IRC or a chat community is communicated to the inhabitants of that forum. In these cases, the initial message is pure action, no content as such, and the service produces the content (initial message structure becomes content). There are also cases when the actual message content written by the sender is modified. When the communication forum is being moderated, messages are being monitored for unwanted content, which is removed before sending the message further. This is the case in some chat groups on the Internet and on TV-broadcasted messaging (e.g. TV-chats). Message content can also be added to, e.g. advertisements and signatures added to e-mails or SMSs by some service providers. All of the above distortions are, in a sense, pre-known by the service, although the resulting distortions may vary. There are, however, also cases in which the distortions are temporary and unpredictable. These are due to the technical aspect of mediated communication and occur when the signal carrying the message is transmitted. Technical problems can cause the message to get lost, be delayed or scrambled because of problems with the transmission of the message signal.

3.5.

Distortions by user interface 2
The receiver’s user interface controls how a received message is displayed. This can cause the message to be displayed in a

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different way from how the sender intended it to. The distortions can affect both the display of content and message structure. Some interfaces let the receiving users themselves decide how incoming messages are handled. For instance, some mobile telephone users can define different ringing tunes for incoming calls from different numbers. In a communication context when there are several receivers (e.g. chat applications), there can be a large variety of receiving user interfaces, which all handle the sender’s messages differently. The distortions of messages posed by the receiving user interface can sometimes be quite critical, as when the receiver is ignoring the sender in IRC. Even in this case it is, however, appropriate to speak of the situation in terms of distortions caused to the message. The service certainly forwards information, both structure and content, about the sender. The receiving interface is, however, set to ignore incoming messages from the sender and thus distorts (or in this case, makes impossible) the communication of the message as the sender had intended. This effect is out of reach for both the service and, consequently, also the user.

3.6.

The effect of distortions
Identity is developed through communication. People’s primary way of being and thus developing their identity is by using the medium they were born with and by expressing themselves in the way they speak, act and look (Bourdieu 1991). The body is, as a medium, though not transparent or fully controllable, the one medium people have to learn to control in order to communicate at all. Still, even after a lifetime of practice, it causes message distortions. People often feel uncomfortable when viewing themselves on video or hearing their own recorded voices. This shows how even the slightest distortions, even when they are caused by the person’s own body and thus in theory are controllable, affect the way people success in communicating their intended content. Every distortion, be it minimal or immense, may feel critical to the person. In a mediated communications situation, the control of how people are presented is taken away from them, and their bodies. To be able to present her/himself as wanted in a mediated context, the user has to have control over the situation. This control is gained by knowledge of how the medium affects the conveyed messages and of what the user can do to affect these modifications. When using their bodies, people know at least some of the possible modifications on the message. People also generally know where their limitations go and what choices they have to modify the way their messages are being presented. The distortions made by the communications ser-

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vice similarly affect the way people are perceived by their recipients. The situation is like someone walking around in a T-shirt with the text “I’m a fool” without the person her/himself knowing of it. The shirt will most certainly affect the way people see her/him. It doesn’t matter if the person might have used the T-shirt voluntarily or if s/he has done so before on previous occasions: the decision is no one else’s but the person’s to make. In the same sense as people should have the option to decide how to present their messages and thus themselves, they should also have the option to decide not to present anything at all. Especially as message structure becomes a significant part of message content, the user has to have control of what information goes with the message. The decision on what to reveal and what to leave out is part of the identity-management process. Potentially everything the user reveals to the service or service provider could be added to the message. Many services, however, collect data about the user that is never revealed to other parties. A crucial part of any service is to communicate to the user, what information is being collected and what parts of it are revealed to other users (Adams 2000; Adams & Sasse 2001; Picard 1997). Deciding not to communicate anything at all is a decision that is part of the way we communicate. Technical distortions of the message that affect message structure and content are generally comparable to the modifications made by the service. There are, however, cases when technical distortions delete a whole message and prevent it from being received. These technical distortions can have a great impact on the communication as they can be interpreted as those communicational situations when the sender decides not to say anything. For instance, some SMSs require answers and the act of not answering a SMS requiring a response is sometimes considered rude. In a case where technical problems cause the reply message never to be received, the technical distortions certainly can have immense conversational impact. Delays, however, can have similar impact as deletions, especially when using communication channels that the user assumes work synchronically, that is, the user thinks the message is being received instantly as s/he sends it.

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4.

Design issues
From a designer’s point of view it is important to design interfaces as well as services in such a way that they support existing communication culture. Also, new services depend on users, to become profitable. Designers cannot always be sure of the ways usage cultures develop after the technology is in the hands of the users. Therefore it is important to design interfaces as well as services in such a way, that they allow different kinds of information to be sent and, on the other hand, received by the interfaces. This multitude of different requirements of information is one reason why distortions of messages occur. In addition to designing how the service and interfaces handle the technical aspects of varying incoming and outgoing information, interface designers also have to consider how the unavoidable distortions are handled in such a way that the user feels comfortable and in control during the communication situations s/he engages in.

4.1.

Distortions by sending and receiving interfaces
The distortions by the sender’s user interface are created as the interface guides the user to form her/his message according to the used media. The user sees these distortions immediately and showing them is not a design issue. Interface design does, however, affect what kind of communication cultures can develop. These effects should, therefore, be considered when the service is being designed and when deciding what kind of communication the interface is generally supposed to support. The distortions by the receiver’s user interface are unpredictable and though the interface can communicate to the service how messages will be displayed, this information cannot be trusted as the interface could provide the service with false information. Thus these distortions cannot be communicated to the sender reliably. What the service does know, however, is who the message is being conveyed to, that is, how many user interfaces will receive it and thus how many recipients will potentially be seeing the message. This is something that should be communicated. Although the distortions of incoming messages cannot be affected during the communication situation, these issues should be considered as part of the design process of the receiving interface. Although the design of user interfaces dictates the possible uses of the designed devices, the designer does not have any tools to control the development of the communication culture using those devices. Providing means

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to send only textual content certainly prevents the user from sending images as such. Still, users might use the methods provided for text to produce images of a new kind, i.e. ASCIIimages or smileys. If the receiving interface handles incoming messages differently from how they are intended to, the receiver will most likely be dissatisfied in the user interface. Communication depends as much on receiving what is sent, as delivering what is intended. Asymmetry in how messages are handled affects how the medium is used in communication and thus unreliable handling of incoming messages limits the potential of the developing communication culture. Picture messages, for instance, have not made any great success, as some mobile phones cannot handle them. People will not want to send messages if they aren’t sure their recipients’ user interfaces are able to receive them.

4.2.

Distortions by service and technical aspects
What can and should be presented by the interface is how the service itself distorts the message. These distortions can be identified and by communicating them to the sender, the service can avoid many of the negative effects on both the communication process and users’ trust in the service itself. One approach to the handling of distortions is naturally to try to eliminate them. With distortions such as added advertisement-banners, this might sometimes be a possible solution. Unwanted distortions should naturally be eliminated, if possible, and our model provides a tool for identifying these. Most distortions, however, are due to the mediated nature of the communication and they are the result of trying to provide the users new or richer ways of expressing themselves. We now consider how those distortions that are not eliminated should be handled. Distortions of messages can be seen as static or non-static. By static, we refer to such modifications that can be predicted, thus all machine-made (except for, naturally, randomly produced ones) modifications are static. Non-static distortions are those that are produced randomly or by humans (human moderators).

4.3.

Communicating distortions to the user
The user interface used to produce the message should be designed to communicate all message distortions between the sender and the recipient identifiable. In a simple sense, this is the difference between the message sent by the user (message 1) and the message forwarded by the service (message 2). This difference should be communicated to the user

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in such a sense, that the user can make use of it when deciding on if and how to use the provided medium for the sending of her/his message. The distortions posed by the service can be presented to the user before sending the message as a preview of the message that s/he is going to send. Sometimes this is not a possibility or it is more convenient to communicate these differences after sending the message. Providing the user a postview of the message can do this, and show the user the message as it was sent. Preview can be used in situations, when the service modifications are static, that is, they are pre-known by the service and can be communicated correctly to the sender before sending a message. This enables the service to show the future modifications before they actually have been made and thus to ask for acceptance from the user before sending the message. Further modifications (e.g. technical distortions) should thereafter be communicated to the sender post-view. Post-view can also be used as a sort of implicit preview in situations, in which the modifications on messages are similar every time. In this case it is important to recognize the difference between modifications perceived to be similar by the user and modifications that can be defined as technically similar. The decision to use post-view should be based on the similarity perceived by the user. This similarity is best perceived in simple systems with minimal (or easily identifiable) distortions and instantly visible messages, e.g. textual chat applications like IRC. If the communication is asynchronic, the situation becomes more problematic, as it may take the user some time to discover, what modifications the system actually makes (e.g. the situation in most newsgroups). In ideal cases post-view can make the modifications predictable by the user and thus work as an implicit preview for all succeeding messages. In these cases it is only necessary to use preview in order to communicate modifications that differ from those the user is accustomed to. The distortions of a message can affect either content or structure. Both carry significance to the receiver and thus, both should be communicated to the sender as well. The nature of the communications channel (the medium), however, affects how distortions can be presented to the user, and thus this should also be communicated. Sending a message to one person is different from sending it to a dozen. The interface should make clear, in addition to what is being sent, to whom the message will be sent. In addition, the user interface should be able to inform the user of the temporal nature of the receiving process: is it synchronic (real-time) or asynchronic (delayed). As technical aspects can impact the transmission of a message, the messaging context and the service used for transmission do not always provide enough informa-

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tion on the actual reception time, but only help the user in estimating the ideal time it takes for a message to reach the destination. In a very stable environment, it can, however, be enough to communicate exceptions as they occur, e.g. when an SMS center is blocked and messages take several hours to be transmitted. As a final design issue, the user sending a message should be informed of her/his abilities to influence distortions. As the user modifies the ways the service treats her/his messages, however, these become service distortions. Even if the user defines them, they still affect the message and should therefore also be communicated. This applies to the receiver’s interface as well, users should generally be informed on how their actions will affect messages, both those sent and received.

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References
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Lankoski, P. & Patamaa, L. 2001, Kuinka käyttöliittymiä luetaan [How people read user interfaces]. — In Lankoski (2001), 160—173. Lasswell, H. 1948, The structure and function of communication in society. — In Bryson, L. (ed.) The Communication of Ideas. Institute for Religious and Social Studies: New York. Manovich, L. 2001, The Language of the New Media. MIT Press: Cambridge and London. Newcomb, T. 1953, An approach to the study of communication acts. — Psychological Review, Vol. 60, 393—440. Picard, R. 1997, Affective Computing. The MIT Press. Shannon, C. & Weaver, W. 1949, The Mathematical Theory of Communication. University of Illinois Press. Turkle, S. 1997, Life on the screen: Identity in the Age of Internet. Touchstone: New York.

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