Organizational Communication Discussion 14

Question Description

Using Chapter 13 as a reference, which theory of communication media use seems most appropriate for describing the process through which you choose what technology to use? Are you rational in your choices? Are you swayed by what others say about a technology or the symbolic value of the technology?

This should be 4 to 5 paragraphs long, Chapter 13 is attached;

CHAPTER 13 Technological Processes AFTER READING THIS CHAPTER, YOU SHOULD … • Be familiar with information and communication technology in the workplace and appreciate how these technologies might differ from more traditional modes of communication. • Be able to explain the process of technology adoption and use in an organizational setting, differentiating between a focus on the attributes of the media and a focus on communication and social relationships. • Understand that technology can have a variety of effects on organizational processes including decision making and power. • Appreciate the role of social media in processes ranging from the communication of corporate identity to organizing for social justice.

• Understand how technology can radically change organizational structures, especially in the form of telework and virtual teams. Consider the changes that have taken place in workplace communication over the past hundred years. To create a simple document, we have moved from handwriting to typing to word processing. To produce multiple copies of that document, we have moved from copying the document by hand to carbon paper to high-speed copying machines. To store those documents, we have moved from boxes to file cabinets to floppy disks to hard drives, servers, CDs, and flash drives and now to cloud storage. To send those documents over long distances, we have moved from stagecoaches to airmail to express mail to facsimile to PDF files. To exchange messages over long distances, we have moved from messengers to telegraph to telephone to voice mail and electronic mail. To get together as a group, we have moved from formal meeting rooms to conference calls to video conferencing to computer conferencing and online chat rooms.

To keep in touch with a wide array of contacts, we have moved from newsletters to blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. To prepare presentations, we have moved from paper flipcharts to overheads to PowerPoint. In short, the workplace in the early twenty-first century bears little resemblance to the workplace of a hundred years ago, and many of the workplace changes we observe are the result of technological innovations. When I was finishing up graduate school, my fiancé and I were excited to buy our first computer. We went top-of-the-line, spending almost $7,000 (in 1985 dollars!). But we felt we were getting our money’s worth because the computer had a dot matrix printer that worked at three different speeds, an internal dial-up modem (it was $500 just for that feature), and ten megabytes’ worth of storage capacity.

We couldn’t imagine ever using up that much space on the hard drive. My, how times have changed. For less than one-tenth of the cost, you can now get a computer that is thousands of times better. And, of course, the basic PC is only the beginning. Not so long ago, I couldn’t have imagined my everyday world today, with e-mail, texting, Web shopping on my smartphone, Pandora music, Facebook, fantasy football drafts via online chat rooms … and I’m not technologically advanced. Of course, for most of you reading this book, many of these technologies have been a part of your lives for as long as you can remember—you are “digital natives”—so it’s difficult to imagine what changes you may experience decades from now. In this chapter, we examine some technological changes that have influenced organizational communication in recent years. We first look at some of these communication technologies and differentiate them from more traditional communication media. We then consider models that attempt to explain the process through which organizational members come to use these communication technologies. Finally, we examine the effects of communication technology on a variety of organizational communication processes, with specific attention to the impact of social media and telework. Before we begin our discussion, however, several caveats are in order.

First, any discussion of “new” communication technologies is sure to be quickly outdated as innovations replace what is currently in vogue. Indeed, each new edition of this book requires the consideration of additional “new” technologies as well as new ways of using more dated technologies. Second, the introduction of new technologies does not always lead to the demise of older technologies. Although the copy machine largely eliminated carbon paper and the computer did away with—for most practical purposes—the typewriter, there are also counterexamples. The existence of computer conferencing has not made the old-fashioned in-person meeting obsolete nor has e-mail put the postal service out of business (at least, not yet). Businesses and individuals in high-tech Japan continue heavy use of fax machines in the Internet age (Fackler, 2013). And although experts were predicting the advent of the “paperless office” with the increased use of computer technology, most businesses go through more paper now than ever before. With these caveats in mind, let us move on to a discussion of technologies that have made an important impact on organizational communication processes. TYPES OF ORGANIZATIONAL COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY The range of technologies introduced to the workplace in recent years is mindboggling.

Voice mail, conference calls, e-mail, texting, management information systems, fax machines, smartphones, social media—all of these advances in information and communication technology (ICT) have radically shifted the ways in which organizations ranging from the smallest mom and pop store to nonprofit service providers to huge multinational corporations accomplish their goals on an ongoing basis. In this section, we will briefly consider some facets of two of the most relevant developments in ICT: electronic mail and the World Wide Web. Electronic mail has clearly changed both personal and organizational life in the last twenty years. Indeed, it is likely that most people reading this page have checked their e-mail at least once already today (and also logged onto Facebook multiple times). Consider the quick march of history. In 1996 there were 400 million e-mail messages sent daily, 16 billion messages in 2001, 60 billion messages in 2006, 145 billion messages in 2012, an estimated 192 billion messages by 2016. A very large portion of these messages are business e-mails and consumer e-mails (“Email statistics report,” 2012; Jones, 2002).

This growth is a global phenomenon—nearly half of worldwide e-mail users are located in the Asia Pacific Region, 22% of e-mail users in Europe, and 14% in North America (“Email statistics report,” 2012). In short, e-mail is a ubiquitous form of organizational communication that can be used to send instant messages to targeted individuals, to broadcast information to a large organizational group, to chat with collaborators across the country or world, and to exchange and revise long, complex documents. Case in Point: Don’t Forget the Thank-You Note This chapter makes the point that new technologies don’t always replace old ways of doing things. However, this idea can be called into doubt when considering the fate of personal handwritten notes. Personal letters only arrive at American homes once every seven weeks, and “some might claim that in a wired world— where e-mails, tweets, and text messages are more accessible than handwritten notes—this is the natural evolution of communication” (Coleman, 2013). Coleman (2013) believes that it is premature to write off the value of the personal and handwritten note.

He argues that this form of communication still has great value in the Internet age for several reasons. First, “handwritten notes mean more because they cost more” (Coleman, 2013). E-mails, tweets, and Facebook messages cost little or nothing in terms of time and money. In contrast, a handwritten note requires stationery, stamps, time for writing, and a trip to the mailbox. Second, the meaning—even just a simple message of “thank-you” — is amplified in a handwritten note. “In a world where so much communication is merely utilitarian, these simple acts of investment, remembrance, gratitude, and appreciation can show the people who matter to your life and business that they are important to you” (Coleman, 2013). Third, these handwritten notes can be saved in drawers, closets, or shoe boxes. We know that e-mails are permanent in one sense, but “they aren’t tangible and enduring in the same way” as a thank-you note you can save or see every day under a refrigerator magnet. So listen to the nagging you probably received from your mom or dad after a birthday party. Write that thank-you note. It could mean as much to a business contact as it did to your grandparents.

The World Wide Web is another aspect of Internet technology that has radically changed the way organizations operate. For the individual worker, the Web can be used to gather relevant technical or policy information, to check on the activities of partners and competitors, to access timely news on a minute-by-minute basis, or to shop for just about anything. For the organization, the Web serves as a forum to promote a desired image, to communicate with customers, and to conduct business of all kinds. Social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter have been particularly influential in all of these processes, as has the growth in mobile technology that allows employees and consumers to carry the Internet in their back pockets. But, of course, the Web can also serve to drain organizational productivity. People routinely check personal e-mail and social networking sites from the workplace. And the Monday after Thanksgiving is now popularly referred to as “cyber Monday,” as individuals return to work and surf the Web for holiday shopping bargains.

Cyber Monday is one of the busiest online shopping days of the year, and if that much shopping is occurring, there is also some work that is not occurring. What features make these and other ICT channels different from more traditional organizational communication options? A number of characteristics do set these technologies apart, although these characteristics vary from technology to technology. First, many ICT options allow faster message transmission than that of traditional organizational communication media. Electronic and voice messages are delivered in seconds, and facsimile machines and PDF files have provided a highspeed alternative to overnight mail delivery. Second, ICT allows communication among geographically dispersed participants. For example, a simple conference call or an online conferencing system allows participants at many locations to take part in meetings that formerly would have required hours or days of travel. Similarly, with electronic mail and other online tools, individuals can be productive at home and avoid long commutes to and from the office. Third, new technologies allow asynchronous communication—that is, communication between individuals at different points in time. For example, communication by means of e-mail can be accomplished effectively even if the two people communicating are never logged on to the computer or checking their cell phones at the same time. These basic features of ICT—fast asynchronous message transmission over vast geographical distance—lead to some emergent aspects of technology in organizational communication today.

First, technology can greatly enhance the possibility for collaboration across time and space. For example, wiki technology now allows dispersed groups to collaboratively create and change content in organizational documents (Wagner & Schroeder, 2010). Second, for good or bad, these factors can lead to communication going viral either within an organizational system or around the world. Jones (2011) notes that viral marketing has the potential to both promote and destroy a brand, and provides advice for companies such as “embrace the weird-ness” and “let the community have control.” Some other features of new organizational communication media are less obvious. For example, new media often change ways of addressing messages. With most communication channels, the sender must specifically address a particular receiver (or group of receivers). However, in online chat rooms, on Reddit, or in the blogosphere, users can communicate with an unknown group of people who are interested in a particular topic.

This anonymity can provide comfort for those uncomfortable sharing information. However, anonymity can also lead to negative communication patterns such as flaming and cyberbullying or can serve as a shield for those engaged in criminal or unethical activities. New communication technologies also differ from traditional organizational communication forms in terms of memory, storage, and retrieval features. Many conferencing systems allow decision-making groups to create a full written transcript of meeting proceedings and Internet search engines allow for the instant retrieval of even the most arcane bit of information. These features can also clearly be seen as double-edged swords as we learn more about the implications of the fact that “the Internet is forever” and that both businesses and governments have access to aspects of our communicative lives that we may prefer to keep private. Finally, many new technologies differ in terms of the cues that are available in the communication process (Short, Williams & Christie, 1976).

Compare, for example, a traditional meeting with a meeting conducted via conference call or an online computer conference. In a phone conference call, participants are unable to assess nonverbal communication cues that are available in face-to-face settings. In a computer conference, even more communication cues are filtered out as participants look only at typed messages and are unable to gain information from vocal or visual channels. Sometimes, the elimination of cues is intentional, as users work to use the technology as efficiently as possible. For example, many older parents still have a difficult time deciphering the text messages of their teenage children, as such messages are often written with a very specific code. And, of course, users of technologies can often enhance the content of their messages through codes such as emoticons, such as ☺, developed specifically for the technology. In summary, ICT offers organizational participants a wide array of interaction and decisionmaking options that can differ substantially from traditional ways of working. In considering the impact of these technologies on the workplace, two important questions must be answered (Yates & Orlikowski, 1992). First, what are the factors that will lead organizational members to choose particular types of technologies for their communication needs?

Second, once these technologies are used, do they have a discernible impact on organizational communication processes? The remainder of this chapter will address these two fundamental questions. After examining models that predict the adoption and use of communication media, we will discuss the effects of these media on organizational functioning. UNDERSTANDING TECHNOLOGY ADOPTION AND USE Once a new ICT hits the scene, most users do not quickly and automatically embrace it. Although their ranks are becoming increasingly thin, there are still people who are reticent to use a computer and many more who cringe at the thought of creating a personal website. There are others, of course, who adopt each new technology with great enthusiasm. Consider, for example, the explosion in recent years of blogs and bloggers on the Web. What factors predict the extent to which various communication media will be used in accomplishing organizational tasks or perhaps distracting workers from those tasks? Several theoretical positions have been offered on this question. For example, Markus (1990) suggests that new communication technologies will not be widely embraced until there is a critical mass of individuals who use the technology.

The idea of critical mass is particularly important for communication technologies that require connectivity. For example, instant messaging did not take off in the late 1990s until a critical mass of individuals were online with the technology for IM’ing available. However, the adoption of technologies involves more than just numbers. This section presents several important ways of understanding organizational communication media use. We will first consider the idea that the features of the technology—in conjunction with issues such as the nature of the task—are critical for understanding patterns of ICT usage. We will then consider work that emphasizes the importance of the social network in explanations of ICT adoption and implementation. The Importance of Technology Attributes One of the first models proposed to understand the choices organizational members make about communication technology use was the media richness model proposed by Richard Daft and Robert Lengel (1984, 1986). These scholars were interested in how managers choose one communication medium over another for an array of organizational tasks. For example, if a manager were faced with the task of reminding employees about an upcoming meeting, what communication medium would be used to send the message: face-to-face communication, phone, memo, or e-mail? Or what would be the preferred communication medium for firing an employee or for resolving a conflict between two subordinates?

To explain such communication choices, these theorists first suggested that organizational communication tasks vary in their level of ambiguity. Ambiguity refers to the existence of conflicting and multiple interpretations of an issue. Consider, for example, the situations described previously. The manager informing employees about an upcoming meeting is faced with a relatively unambiguous task because multiple interpretations about a simple reminder are unlikely. In contrast, the manager who must resolve a conflict between two subordinates is faced with a communicative situation that has great potential for misunderstanding and emergent meaning. Thus, this communicative interaction would be characterized as much more ambiguous. Daft, Lengel, and Trevino (1987) then argue that communication channels available to the organizational manager differ markedly in their capability to convey information based on factors such the use of multiple cues, the availability of feedback, and the personal focus of the medium.

Given these factors, various communication media can be placed on a continuum ranging from rich (e.g., face-to-face communication) to lean (e.g., a flyer placed in a mailbox). Between the endpoints of rich and lean would fall media such as the telephone, e-mail, voice mail, written memos, Web postings and others. Media richness theorists then combine the notion of task ambiguity with the notion of media richness and argue that managers will choose media that match the ambiguity of the message. That is, when dealing with highly ambiguous tasks, managers will choose to use a rich communication medium (e.g., face-to-face interaction), but when dealing with a communication message low in ambiguity, managers will opt for a lean communication medium (e.g., a memo). These theorists further argue that managers will be more effective if they choose a communication medium that is a proper match for the ambiguity of the task at hand. These ideas regarding communicative effectiveness are illustrated in Figure 13.1. In general, there has been support for the basic tenets of the media richness model. Research has found that managers tend to choose rich media to deal with ambiguous tasks and lean media to deal with unambiguous tasks (see, e.g., Russ, Daft & Lengel, 1990); furthermore, there is some evid…

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