In 1973, cultural studies scholar Stuart Hall created the encoding/decoding model of communication to explain the way we produce and consume the media. He theorized that audience members relied on their social contexts—race, gender, and sexuality, for instance—to “decode” messages across a wide variety of media outlets.
To illustrate Hall’s theory, consider the way you interpret body language and demeanor. If you identify as American, you might appreciate and understand a close friend’s animated hand gestures and loud, uninhibited storytelling, but in another country, the same behavior might be seen as rude or unsightly.
In a world, however, where billions of people across a variety of cultures meet and interact without ever looking up from their smartphones, how much do our social contexts matter? How have our media encoding/decoding patterns changed in an increasingly connected world? And finally, what does it mean to be “culturally fluent” on the Internet?
It’s undeniable; thanks to the Internet, we share more common experiences than ever. We’ve all looked up that high school crush or childhood friend on Facebook, scrolling ever so gently and carefully across the screen to avoid the dreaded, accidental “like.” We’ve all agonized over two-sentence captions, and spent entirely too much time crafting the perfect sequence of ironic hashtags and emoticons to accompany a “candid” Instagram photo.
We’ve also all experienced the darker side of the Internet. One poorly-worded tweet can lead to a barrage of vindictive messages, and online anonymity can lead to vicious, unchecked cyber-bullying. We’ve all looked for ways to protect ourselves online, whether we’re dealing with online bullies or potential scammers looking to make quick cash.
These behaviors and reactions—no matter how mundane—show that we’re part of a culture that’s larger and more complex than anything we’ve experienced before. Serious think pieces on emoticon meanings, raging debates on proper punctuation usage in chat platforms, and silly “listicles” of the most cringeworthy Facebook posts appear on everything from small, IT-focused blogs to the New York Times. There are unspoken rules for each and every platform, and those who can’t learn them quickly enough are shut out from a vibrant, virtual world of influence and connection. It’s clear that we’ve all joined—whether willingly or unwillingly—the Golden Age of cyberculture.
To enhance your communication skills across social media, messaging, emails, and branding in an increasingly technology-driven world, check out Netiquette: Modern Manners for a Modern World. My book is a must for anyone who hopes to expand their influence on cyberculture and beyond.
In this day and age, who isn’t?
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