A REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
"The future is likely to belong to those organizations that never stop asking, `How can we better organize and manage ourselves?'" (Galbraith and Lawler, 1993.)
What determine managers' choice of communication media? Why do managers prefer to use one communication media over another? Within the domain of information system and communication research there exists a substantial body of theories that explain manager's media choice. The purpose of this chapter is to review the theories on media choice and to identify the deficiencies of these theories.
2.2. EARLY RATIONAL THEORIES
The early theories on media choice tend to be from the rational and individual school of thought. The first theory is the social presence theory of Short, Williams and Christie (1976). This theory emphasises the psychological aspect of using communication media: media choice hinges upon the ability of the media to convey the nature of the relationship between the communicators. In this regard, communication media can be described as warm, personal, sensitive or sociable.
A few years later, Daft and Wington (1979) proposed a language variety theory to explain media choice. It evolved from the idea that certain media, such as painting or music, are capable of conveying a broader range of ideas, meanings, emotions compared to mathematics. Such media have a higher language variety. This led to the suggestion that language variety needs to be matched with the communication task. Equivocal and complex social tasks are said to require a medium with high language variety.
Obviously, this is not directly applicable to manager's choice as they do not use painting or music as a mean of communication, but this notion lays the foundation for media richness theory. This is where the discussion will turn to next.
2.3. MEDIA RICHNESS THEORY
The previous two theories are fragmented and non-comprehensive. With media richness theory a much fuller picture of media choice emerged. Daft and Lengel (1984, 1986) were the first to propose the media richness theory. The media richness theory is a general theory that explains managerial behaviours as well as organizational design. It became one of the most popular and widely studied models of media choice because of its well structured and intuitive framework.
2.3.1. Original Formulation
Media richness theory establishes a framework that ranks communication media along a continuum in terms of their "richness". In this context, "richness" denotes the capacity of the media to: (i) carry large volume of data, and (ii) convey meaning. More specifically media richness refers to the ability of the media to change human understanding, overcome different conceptual frames of reference, or clarify ambiguous issues in a timely manner (Daft and Lengel 1984, 1986). Thus, where the mode of communication provides new substantial understanding it is considered "rich"; otherwise, it is "lean".
Four criteria (the original criteria) were used by Daft and Lengel (1984) to classify communication media along the continuum. These are summed up in Table 2.1.
These criteria denote the qualities of rich media; their attributes impact upon human understanding and frame of reference (Daft and Lengel 1984, 1986). Consequently, communication media possessing more features of the criteria would rank higher on the richness scale compared to one possessing less. For example, using these criteria, oral media (eg. face-to-face and telephone) are believed to be richer than written media because they provide opportunities for immediate feedback and can have multiple cues in a natural language tailored to the circumstances. Typically, synchronous media (ie. with immediate feedback) are considered richer than asynchronous media (ie. involve delay in the communication process). So telephone was ranked lower than face-to-face because it can transmit fewer cues...
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