Electronic Mail as the Medium of Managerial Choice
As new technologies that support managerial communication become widely used, the question of how and why managers, especially senior managers, use them increases in importance. This paper examines how and why managers use electronic mail. Today, one of the more influential theories of media choice in organization and information science is information richness theory, which has stimulated much empirical research on media selection and has clear implications for how managers should use media. Despite numerous modifications and elaborations, information richness theory remains an individual-level rational choice explanation of behavior, and as such it differs fundamentally from theories that emphasize the social context of managers’ communication and media choice behavior. While the weight of informed opinion seems to be shifting toward social theories of media selection and use, much empirical research continues to test individual-level rational choice models. A multi-method investigation was designed to assess the power of information richness theory, relative to alternative social theories, to explain and predict managers’ use of email. Managers were found to perceive various media in ways that were relatively consistent with information richness theory, but to use email more and differently than the theory predicted. In particular, effective senior managers were found to use email heavily and even for equivocal communications tasks. These results cannot be explained by information richness theory or by simple modifications of the theory. Rather, they suggest that the adoption, use, and consequences of media in organizations can be powerfully shaped by social processes such as sponsorship, socialization, and social control, which require social perspectives to understand them. These processes can result in differences across organizations and other social units in the patterns of using traditional media like the telephone, but such differences are even more likely for new media, like electronic mail.