Authors begin by introducing media richness theory (MRT). Proponents of MRT, we are told, argue that “task performance will be improved when task needs are matched to a medium's richness” (p. 1), and hence less ‘rich’ media like CMC are best suited to tasks where there is ‘lack’ of information. Thus, Dennis and Valacich criticize MRT on the grounds that it is not convincing for new media such as CMC, and that there is no enough evidence that the use of richer (leaner) media improves the performance of equivocal (uncertain) tasks like those related to CMC situations. It is argued that richness of a medium depends not only on its social factors, but on elements related to information processing as well. In this way, the authors present a set of characteristics that they believe are important for understanding the effects of media use on communicating, and processing information. These factors are:
• Immediacy of feedback
• Symbol variety (e.g., the existence of verbal and nonverbal cues)
• Parallelism (or multiple addressability)
• Rehearsability (or editability)
The authors reach three conclusions about Media richness; these are:
1. Since no one medium has the highest values on all dimensions, none could be labeled as ‘richest.’
2. One medium can possess different levels of a communication capability depending upon how it is configured and used.
3. Third, ranking media in absolute terms is not practical.
Building upon these three conclusions, the authors argue that it is ‘inappropriate’ to maintain that face-to-face communication is the richest media. Keen to destabilize the MRT, the authors also try to criticize the perspective that MRT disciples adopt for the concept of ‘task’ by introducing and illustrating the TIP (Time, Interaction, and Performance) theory. The TIP theory argues that groups are embedded in their social and organizational surroundings and that these groups perform various functions (i.e., production—e.g., performing a task—group well-being, and member-support) and can be engaged in various modes (i.e., inception, technical problem solving, conflict resolution,
Tasks of equivocality (i.e., where there is ‘confusion’) are said to trigger a mode of inception (i.e., defining goals) and sense-making strategies on the part of a group in an effort to process information. Two steps are identified for information processing: conveyance (i.e., “the dissemination of a diversity of information from many sources” (p. 4)) and convergence (where there is an examination of “ascribed meanings [and where] conclusions drawn from a diverse set of information [are already known” (p. 4)). Thus, MRT is criticized since, according to the authors, it leaves behind the ‘conveyance’ of information. Here is how the authors put it: “Without adequate conveyance of information, individuals will reach incorrect conclusions. Without adequate convergence, the group cannot move forward” (p. 4). Tasks of ‘uncertainty’ are also said to require the two above-mentioned step of information processing, though in a more or less different way.
Theory of Media Synchronicity
The authors define media synchronicity as “Media synchronicity is the extent to which individuals work together on the same activity at the same time” (p. 5). To execute their theory, the authors ‘examine’ the ability of the media ‘capabilities’ and ‘support’ the two communication processes (conveyance and convergence) across the three group functions (production, group well-being, and member support). They maintain that, in general, low media synchronicity is preferred for conveyance and that high synchronicity is preferred for convergence. After an interesting illustration of the five factors that are said to affect processing information, Dennis and Valacich give a summary of their argument and provide five generalizations about information processing. Then they move to relate this with ‘group development.’ Both established and newly-formed groups are covered here. The authors conclude that face-to-face communication is not always the "richest" medium for communication. The "best" medium or set of media depends upon which of … [the] five [mentioned] dimensions are most important for a given situation.