Saturday, December 28, 2013

How Multiple Forms of Media Impact Our Social Understandings

Communication is seen as a process of information transference from one person to another. Few think about the cognitive models that develop from information transference and how different communication channels influence meaning. Dennis, et. al. (2008) discusses the nature of information conveyance and convergence when dealing with groups and how media synchronicity impacts meaning making among recipients.

Media richness theory indicates that task performance will improve when task information are matched to the medium’s information richness.  Difficult tasks require more information when compared to simple tasks while less rich media are better suited to tasks that require less information. The media used to transfer information should be based on the type of task.

For example, someone who wants to complete a simple task such as changing a wiper blade on a car will need few instructions to successfully complete this task. Changing a car transmission may require multiple forms of written instructions and videos to successful complete this task. The more difficult the task, the more media synchronicity can help.  

In communication we prepare information, transfer it through a medium, and others will process this information into their mental models. Different people obtain varying levels of information from media and process that information according to how their particular mental models work. Two people can see the same thing but each will notice the information that fits within their understanding while selectively ignoring information that does not fit within their personal models.

In groups, the meaning of information is based more in the interactive interpretation of multiple persons. Meaning requires a level of negotiation among members that are engaged in tasks. Meaning is subjective depending on the cognitive models others are using. Each group will come to their own slightly different interpretation of the information.

When transmitting information to groups it is important to understand the processes of conveyance and convergence. Conveyance processes provide transmission of diversity of new information that allows individuals to create revised mental models of situations. Convergence processes is the way in which people interpret and make models out of the information to come to mutually agreed upon understandings.  We can see this as receiving information, building models of that information, and then coming to an understanding of that information.

It is possible to see this in an example. The latest gizmo makes its way on the market. The type of spokes models, celebrities, music, and impressions provided through the media make their way into everyday conversations. Each interpretation adds to the collective development of a fad product. When the product becomes old people will leave it for something new. That is the nature of fads and hype which are socially constructed concepts of “coolness”.

The researchers found that when individuals have experience with tasks and each other they have fewer convergence processes and less need for media synchronicity. In other words, they are familiar with each other’s cognitive processes and a small amount of information is enough for them to come to a shared understanding (i.e. a tight group of teenagers who like a product). When individuals have little experience with each other or the tasks it is beneficial to use multiple rich forms of media to transfer needed information.

The study helps highlight how we use media and information to build cognitive models. When tasks are unfamiliar it is beneficial to use multiple forms of rich media to help us build new models (i.e. learning) and come to a social understanding of those models. Once the models are built, lower forms of media are enough to transfer information. Thus, understanding is based on cognitive models and they are individually constructed and then negotiated against others cognitive models to come to mutual understanding.  Therefore, understanding is a social construction process fostered by the information we receive from our environment and multiple forms of media (i.e. phone, Internet, face-to-face, music, television, You Tube, etc…).

Dennis, et. al. (2008). Media, tasks, and communication processes: a theory of media synchronicity. MIS Quarterly, 32 (3).

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