The History and Future of Digital Communication: A Comparative Analysis of China and the World


With the continuous development of digital technologies, digital communication has penetrated into various fields of the society and entered the core of communication studies in recent years. With China’s constant exploration on emerging digital technologies, Chinese scholars have also shown great interests in the field of digital communication studies. However, existing comparative studies mainly focus on traditional research fields, there is few systematic comparative studies on digital communication. Therefore, this study attempts to explore the characteristics and differences between China and the world in the field of digital communication studies.

To assess the research progress of digital communication studies, we adopt China's Social Science Citation Index (CSSCI) and Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) as the data source and ordered the journals in the index by influence factors. The top 5 journalism journals with the highest influence factor were selected as the research samples and content analysis method was adopted to examine the full sample of 178 articles published in these journals between January 1981 and June 2019. Three scholars utilized content analysis to encode and analyze all the samples. In addition, this research was supplemented by CiteSpace, the visual literature analysis software for topic modeling to show the development trajectory.

Research findings :(1) Relevant researches in the field of digital communication originated around 2000, and CSSCI and SSCI ushered in explosive growth in the number of digital communication issues in 2016 and 2018 respectively. In this process, academic development is mainly driven by industry development. (2) In terms of the popular topics, journalism is the most popular research topic in China, while scholars from other countries and regions are more inclined to take digital technology as a medium to conduct researches. (3) CSSCI papers focus on qualitative researches while SSCI papers tend to quantify researches. At the same time, SSCI papers mostly adopt a clear theoretical framework while CSSCI papers rarely adopt a clear theoretical framework. (4) By analyzing the source of the paper, the style of the journals and the level of digital technology development in different countries also determine the research perspectives.

Due to the differences between Chinese and Western histories, the cultural thinking patterns and logics of the two sides are different. Western culture is more individualistic in ideology and emphasizes formal logic, while Chinese culture advocates collectivist thinking with a bigger picture and pays attention to logical reasoning. This has led to differences between SSCI and CSSCI in digital communication research. Research conclusion explores the different characteristics of Chinese and Western digital communication studies from the research direction, research application and research methodology. Through the distinction between the East and the West, it is suggested that future research should apply macro research to guide the direction of micro one, while focusing on the integration of academic and social values and adopting multiple scientific research methods that include both formal logic and speculative logic. Insights drawn from these findings are expected to provide new directions for future research in the field of digital communication.