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E-communication in businesses has been the target of intense research. The theoretical hypotheses that have informed the media richness hypothesis have been influential in some circles and have also been strongly attacked by social theorists. It is argued in this paper that this theoretical polarization involving advocates of the media richness hypothesis and social theorists is due to two problems. The first is that there is a wealth of empirical evidence that provides direct support for the notion that human beings prefer the face-to-face medium for a variety of business tasks that involve communication, which seems to provide support for the media richness hypothesis. The second problem is that the media richness hypothesis is built on a vacuum, as no underlying explanation was ever presented by media richness theorists for our predisposition toward rich (or face-to-face) media. The main goal of this paper is to offer a solution to these problems by providing an alternative to the media richness hypothesis, referred to here as media naturalness hypothesis, developed based on Darwin's theory of evolution. The media naturalness hypothesis argues that, other things being equal, a decrease in the degree of naturalness of a communication medium (or its degree of similarity to the face-to-face medium) leads to the following effects in connection with a communication interaction: (a) increased cognitive effort, (b) increased communication ambiguity, and (c) decreased physiological arousal. Like the media richness hypothesis, the media naturalness hypothesis has important implications for the selection, use, and deployment of e-communication tools in organizations. However, unlike the media richness hypothesis, the media naturalness hypothesis is compatible with social theories of behavior toward e-communication tools. Among other things, this paper shows that the media naturalness hypothesis (unlike its media richness counterpart) is compatible with the notion that, regardless of the obstacles posed by low naturalness media, individuals using those media to perform collaborative tasks may achieve the same or better task-related outcomes than individuals using media with higher degrees of naturalness.
Date of Publication: June 2005