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A contrarian speaks

I know that we discussed in class that media richness as a helpful paradigm to discuss communication technologies. We drew a continuum on the board and tried to place many common types of communication technologies on our scale of media richness from the best (FTF) to something very low in media richness (possibly unaddressed junk mail).

The more that I think about this the more this doesn’t seem to serve any purpose. Doing this exercise is just as accurate and useful as trying to put artwork on a scale of beauty. It is not that the idea of media richness isn’t important; it is that determining whether something is high or low in richness will never be agreed upon without criteria. You will never get me to agree that email has more media richness than written addressed documentation. Not with all the spam, listserv messages, and task related messages that I receive on email and the lack of anything that even remotely that fosters community, friendship, etc. On the other hand, although I am sure I receive the same amount of junk mail and bills (spam/task related) stuff in my mailbox you do, when a friend or family member writes me a letter, whether that is weekly or a monthly occurrence, it is much more rich than email. I often receive drawings from my friend’s children back home, pictures from friends, clippings of articles, coupons, you name it. The most I ever get in my email box is the random link or ads with pictures that want me to visit a website – most of which I don’t care about. But even if your experience you rarely get snail mail, I hope you will concede that a personal letter has the potential to be just as high in media richness as an email or that either one can be very low in media richness depending on the circumstances.

I am not thinking that the scale is a bad idea I just think that media richness has to be based on a combination of a number of factors. FTF communication is the richest form of communication for many reasons: it is verbal and non-verbal, it is synchronous, it fosters community, it can occur in a dyad or in a group, it can serve different functions simultaneously, and the list can go on and on. The only effective way to use media richness is to determine these criteria that make media rich and build a scale (or set of scales that can be used in conjunction) that can determine media richness with less ambiguity.