Publication Date


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Arts in Communication



Major Advisor

John McClellan, Ph.D.


This study offers initial research on Physically Interactive Technology (PIT). Findings of this research reveal how people made sense of PIT, how the ways people understand PIT reveal presence due to physical interaction, and how PIT challenges the definition of online interaction. Current and past literature on social presence theory and social cues theory provide a rationale for how “present” a person can be during online interaction via Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC). Current research states CMC is used in many contexts because of the beneficial ways it allows individuals to feel face to face. However, within this literature, scholars tend to treat CMC as the transmission of messages in a virtual space. PIT, however, extends the ways we think about CMC because it focuses on physical interaction and participation within reality. To explore the ways participants react to and understand the novel ability to physically interact via CMC, I engaged in twenty-one semi-structured qualitative interviews and participant observation of individuals’ use of PIT. By analyzing the data using principles of grounded theory, I found three key findings. First, participants made sense of PIT as “cool” by means of its ability to control objects within a real environmental, resulting in personal connections. Second, there were generational differences in technical use and understanding of PIT. Lastly, women and men made sense of PIT differently in terms of possible applications. Overall, participants seemed to reflect a heightened sense of social presence because PIT provided an ability to recognize context cues, and physically engage in another environment, allowing an interaction more similar to face to face. These findings imply that PIT is breaching a new boundary of online interaction and changing CMC into active interaction instead of a transmission of messages.