Modern technology has made the relationship between media and audience (public) more interactive. Discuss
One of the theories that set out to describe the relationship between media, audience and the contribution of technology is known as media richness theory. According to the theoretical framework of this theory, communications media are assessed according to their ability to reproduce all the information that is sent through over them. For this reason, the greatest challenge for the public is the choice of media. A good example of this theory is a phone call which lacks the ability to transmit visual social cues such as gestures. For this reason, it lacks a very crucial aspect of richness.
The explanation offered by the media richness theory is slightly different from the one offered by information processing theory and contingency theory. However, there is a point of convergence in the way richness is perceived in these two theories in that both of them seem to support effectiveness of communication through proper consideration of equivocal issues in different types of modern media. The 21st-century information and communications technology has provided enough media tools. The main challenge is to choose how best to use these tools in order to achieve interactivity benefits.
The most important element of media richness theory is the choice of communication media. Modern technology has made it possible for people to choose different communication media in order to meet different needs. According to this theory, the sender ought to use the richest possible medium in order to meet the expectations of the audience. However, the reality of the matter today is that circumstances often force people to use less-rich media. This brings about limitations in the quality of the message that is communicated as well as the feedback that the sender receives. For instance, although a modern text message is much more interactive compared to other forms of written communication that were being used two decades ago, it is very difficult for the audience to single out instances of sarcasm.
The use of less rich media forms does not necessarily mean that there will be less interactivity. One can use the available technology to the best use in order to achieve all the intended communication goals. The dimensions of feedback should be understood for the quality of the message to be maintained at a high level. Sometimes, people are overwhelmed by the wide range of media facilities available. For this reason, they tend to ignore crucial creative elements that enhance interactivity, quality of message, and by extension, feedback.
The concept of media richness is to a certain extent related to media interactivity. The main connector of these two elements is modern information and communications technology. Daft and Lengel (1984) define information richness as “ ability to change the level of understanding within a specific time interval”. For the quality of media communication to be rich, different frames of reference have to be overcome and ambiguous issues have to be clarified in order for understanding to be promoted in a timely manner, thus ensuring that there is the effectiveness of technology use.
However, the richness of media is not a guarantee of interactivity. This is because although the medium may have the capacity for immediate feedback, such capacity means nothing if the people communicating are not keen on using it for their mutual benefits. Social presence is, therefore, an important component that seems to be decreasing with improvement in technology. Perhaps it is because of the rise in expectancy levels as people become more and more overwhelmed by the introduction of new technology and unnecessary modifications of existing ones.
Interactivity is determined by capacity for a medium to facilitate immediate feedback as well as the availability of many cues and channels. These two functions require the social variable for them to function well. Language variety is also a factor to be considered. The degree to which the sender of the message focuses on the recipient also determines whether there will be interactivity or not. Interactivity is about the warmth of the communication which comes about as a result of a sense of immediacy that propels the participants to engage with each other more. When this happens, the medium should not be a let-down. Modern technology, if used well can never be a let-down if properly chosen and the right social cues adhered to.
Media richness theory has been criticized by many scholars who claim that it is deterministic in nature. Markus, 1994 is of the view that social pressures are more influential in matters of media use compared to richness. He continues to say that this influence takes place in ways that are very consistent with the need for interactivity. In this case, the contention seems to be which one between media richness and social pressure is more important for bringing about media interactivity rather than which one is irrelevant.
The modern technology requires knowledge of different aspects of interactivity requires for each communicative contexts. In most cases, the reality is that the best channel may not be available at the time when communication has to be made. Therefore, one has to choose the second-best option. Other than determining this choice, one needs to make some adjustments of social cues in order to make the best use of the presently available communication medium. In the media richness theory, a hint is made on how these adjustments should be made only that it is done with the emphasis being only on the capacity by the available media to resolve existing ambiguities.
Before the advent of the internet and modern computing capabilities, the main challenge for people who wanted interactivity in communication was the available media tools. Today, these tools are available. They range from internet calls, video conferencing, text messages, animated communication, email, and online group chats. There are very many social networking channels that one can use to communicate with anyone wherever he or she is in the world. Media richness theory’s contribution to how best to use these media tools is the conceptualization of the aspect of media richness hierarchy.
In the media richness hierarchy, for different criteria used to determine where a media form lies within the hierarchy include (a) Availability of instant feedback; (b) use of natural language, (c) personal focus in the medium and (d) the capacity of a medium to transmit many cues such as voice tone, inflection, and body language. According to this theory, a face-to-face form of communication is the richest medium. Down the hierarchy, the media to mention include telephone, email, letters, notes, memos, special reports, fliers and finally bulletins. To this extent, technology can enhance communications in a way that the audience may not expect it to. For instance, in a conventional way of thinking, the telephone conversation may be ranked higher due to its technical sense of efficacy. Many people may not understand why they should use face-to-face communication when they would rather use a telephone or a mobile phone.
The choice of media affects interactivity at the level of a strategic management perspective as well. In this case, the media richness theory’s suggestion is that managers need to make very rational choices in order to match a channel of communication with the intended communicative goals. This may be a difficult thing to do in a world where technology is slowly taking over in literally all forms of communication. In this case, some forms of communication become “too handy” to ignore in preference to more interactively and contextually relevant communication channels.
Improper choice of media makes the public perceive emerging technologies negatively Daft and Lengel 1984). For this reason, it becomes difficult to convince the audience to participate proactively in making all communicative contexts successful. The worst that can happen is a scenario where the public perceives use of a certain technology as a wasteful use of technology (Trevino and Lengel 1987), in which case, the intended message will be considered to be irrelevant.
The aspect of relational considerations when media forms are being selected holds in the media richness theory just as it does in other theories. This is the only way in which self-presentational goals can be achieved in a world where modern technology has been fully embraced in both personal and corporate settings. For example, manager-subordinate interactions may prove successful in media that are very rich in terms of immediacy and promptness of feedback since there are established frames of reference that each party is not expected to flout. The case may be different when one is talking to a stranger whose social, economic, political and cultural standing you may not understand at all. In this case, the hierarchical analysis of media richness has to be resorted to, otherwise one would expect the hierarchy to ordinarily be considered in a transient fashion.
Sheer and Chen, 2004 argue that the best way to appreciate how modern technology has made the relationship between media and the audience more interactive is to compare traditional media with modern media. In this case, self-presentational goals need to be closely monitored since they are an important variable that may affect the manner in which the audience perceives the messages, regardless of whether they are communicated using traditional technology or modern technology.
Importance of knowledge on Social presence and its role in interactivity
The communication process entails much more than an exchange of information. It also entails a proper understanding of the social context in which information is being exchanged. In this era of modern technology, the media richness theory is being challenged as virtual interactions become an integral part of day-to-day communication. Virtually interactive scenes include video conferences, group internet chat rooms, social networking sites, and online associations and forums. The extent of interactivity in these social networks, unlike in conventional interactions, is dependent on how easily accessible communication technology is. For instance, some people may not have regular access to the internet, making it difficult for regular communication to take place.
The world of virtual socialization with the realm of information exchange may be more complicated than one may imagine. Although it is easy to fit in emerging technologies in the hierarchy of media richness, some additional factors may be ignored along the way, leading to inconsistencies in the process of selecting the best media technology. According to Daft and Lengel, 1986, it is very difficult to develop a hierarchy of richness that is based on a balance between the volume of information to be handled and the potential for the message to be misunderstood in terms of social contextualization.
Social presence, whether virtual or real, is often considered by proponents of media richness as relating to the extent to which both the audience and the sender of the message are able to freely show their empathy for each other’s situation. A good example is a communicator who is highly doubtful whether a conference video call will present him with the best opportunity to present a business proposal that may unlock a lifetime opportunity that is about to be offered by an affiliate company that is in a foreign country. In this case, the sender of the message has to decide whether to travel to a foreign country for face-to-face communication or to sit back and make the proposal in the comfort of the company’s boardroom.
Social presence in terms of today’s information technology of today takes many forms, all of which are highly mediated in different ways in order for different communicative needs to be achieved. The ability for one to realize and understand that he is not talking to technology but to a human being is at the very heart of interactivity. Without this understanding, the provisions of media richness are based on the wrong premise (Rice and Shook, 1990).
Suh, 1999 understands social presence as: “the ability among participants in communication to project themselves in a socially effective manner within a community of inquiry. This understanding sheds some light on the factors to consider when choosing the most interactive media of communication either with one person, small groups or a large public. Additionally, the availability of information per se is not enough. People have to know about technology in order to overcome the negative perceptions associated with it. it is only in this way that an objective assessment of interactivity can be made.
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