Monday, December 20, 2004


Outline of M. Lynne Markus’s Toward a “Critical Mass” Theory of Interactive Media

Outline of M. Lynne Markus’s
Toward a “Critical Mass” Theory of Interactive Media

-The purpose of this chapter was to ID key factors that affect the achievement of universal access among communities utilizing an interactive medium and further internal use within the communities.

Importance of Universal Access
-Once it is achieved, members of that community have the ability to realize the interactive medium’s full benefits and quite possible it maximum potential

-Once it is achieved, communities can afford to leave behind the older medium for the more current one.

Difficulty of Achieving Universal Access
-Those who use an interactive medium prior to universal access may fall short of experiencing the full benefits of the medium due to the insufficient number of users of the medium and the high costs of maintaining limited communication channels via the medium.

-In the absence of a sizable number of initial users a new medium can either fail to spread or be eliminated altogether (critical mass).

Diffusion, Interdependence, and Critical Mass
Diffusion Theory
-The first to adopt an innovation do so because they can obtain the benefits of performing the innovative activity.

-Whether it is out of a greater need for the innovation than others or the benefits are proportional to the length and intensity of use the earlier adopters get the spoils.

-In order for universal access or a high level of interactivity to be achieved with an innovative medium, early adopters rely heavily on later adopters to follow – otherwise the innovation will fail to achieve its full potential.

Critical Mass Theory
-A small, but segment of population vital towards achieving universal access; this segment will be a determining factor making a medium significant to the community.

Applying Critical Mass Theory to Interactive Media
Resource Contributions for Universal Access:
-Equipment: infrastructure and access devices
-Effort: knowledge of medium and some communication discipline

-Basis 1: Technological configuration of the medium in a specific community

-Basis 2: Mechanisms within a community to fund the acquisition and operation of the medium

-Basis 3: recognizing communication procedures/protocols

Prop 1: Reduction in the resources early adopters ought to contribute to an interactive medium will increase the likelihood of universal access.

-Basis 4: Recognizing levels of communication knowledge

Prop 1a: Higher levels of skill and effort requirements will lower the likelihood of universal access of an interactive medium.

-Basis 5: Based on equipment requirements, different classes of interactive media will vary widely.

Prop 1b: Higher levels of communication discipline requirements will lower the likelihood of universal access of an interactive medium.

-Basis 6: Laws of supply and demand, as well as access financial and non-financial resources.

Prop 1c: High equipment costs borne by early users of the medium will lower the likelihood of universal access.

-Basis 1: Variation in the degree to which individuals can benefit promotes collective action when the production function is accelerating or decelerating.

-Basis: 2: Variation in the degree to which individuals can contribute promotes collective action when the production function is accelerating.

Prop 2: Heterogeneity of interests and resources among community members will increase likelihood of achieving universal access.

-Basis 3: Through the need for information and the need for functional specialization and differentiation, task interdependence promotes heterogeneity of interests in and resources for universal access.

Prop 2a: Task interdependence or network density increases likelihood of universal access.

-Basis 4: Resources (i.e.: information) is valuable because there is a need for it; hence, seekers or consumers in a community must be recognized in the infrastructure.

Prop 2b: Centralization increases the likelihood of universal access.

-Basis 5: [Maintaining and modifying] the accessibility to resources is key to building community as it grows.

Prop 2c: Geographic dispersion increases the likelihood of universal access

Discussion: Looking at the extent of media diffusion
A: Implications for Research

-Looking into Media choice of a community
What are the media interests if a community?
What purpose does a certain medium serve?
What level of knowledge or resources does the community have?

-Boundaries of communities: sub groups and subunits
Looking at how interactive media spread from one group into another within a community

-Time Factor: Determining when and how long a medium has been used
Is the medium current or obsolete to a community?
Infrastructures may change over time

-Size and Structure of a community:
Infrastructures may vary

B: Implications for Practice
-Theories can not apply unless they can be applied through some empirical research

-Successful implementation will vary based on the relationship between the parties formulating the strategy and the community adopting the medium

-Even if an entire community uses an interactive medium simultaneously, individual members differ in their information processing behavior; reinforcement behaviors, and media preferences.

Interactive media are assumed to have to key properties apart from other media:
reciprocal interdependence
comprises a public good for those who work hard to achieve it.

Critical Mass Theory focuses on the collective benefit rather than the individual gain; however, the gains will vary according to an individual’s perception and background.



Markus’s article on the use of E-mail by managers held a great deal of resonance for me. As an officer of a publication company here on campus, I find that the technology has been most effective in communicating with my colleagues and employees asynchronously. Based in the information richness theory, among the great advantages of utilizing email today versus other common modes of communication (i.e.: voice mail, hand- or type-written messages etc.) are the opportunities for timely feedback, the ability to convey multiple cues, language variety. Personally, I find the ability to tailor messages to personal, as well as professional, circumstances to be the greatest attribute of e-mail.

In many instances, I am faced with the responsibility of corresponding with multiple people simultaneously on professional matters with the realization that we communicate and interact differently from an individual basis. Collectively, however, we have not all been able to effectively communicate and interact due to such constraints as time and space. These recurrences have nearly threatened our ability accomplish many important tasks pertinent to our organization. Email allows one to take his/her time to create, edit, and revise messages tailored to address a single receiver or multiple recipients.

I think what is key to successful use of this medium is knowing with whom one is communicating. Having some familiarity of the sender or the receiver will help the other understand what the message pertains to - thereby making the message more effective. In other cases, knowing an individual’s position within or outside an organization can be conducive to understanding the nature and business behind the message. Another advantage to the medium is that it allows the author and the recipient(s) to have a recorded log of when a message was sent. As a result this minimizes, if not eliminate, the loss or removal of important messages through other media such as the telephone or print.

Since this research was conducted about 10 years ago, it was not surprising to find that the participants of this research were more inclined to discuss personal matters in person than via email and more professional matters via email. For one, with such concerns and regulations in the workplace regarding the use of this technology (that still exist in many companies today), email is an electronic convenience like many others before that can be appropriated for so many other uses. The great thing about email is that it has evolved into a synchronous medium thanks to the innovation of instant messaging via the internet and cellular phones thereby permeating between being a synchronous and asynchronous medium.


Student Perspectives on Online Education

Leonard, J. & Guha, S. (2001). “Education at the Crossroads: Online Teaching and Students’ Perspectives on Distance Learning.” Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 34, 51-57.

The article touches on how the internet offers post-secondary institutions and their students with new opportunities to learn through the flexibility online learning provides. With today’s computer and other technological advances, online courses are increasing in number and scope. From this study, students in the sample were generally comfortable with the online instruction for their math and education courses. They developed their navigational skills of the virtual environment, while acquiring the required content of their courses. In spite of these responses, the researchers found that there was definitely a need for more improvement in the organization and delivery of online services to the students as their needs and the technology change over time. However, with all the conveniences that online education can provide, this article raises an important question over the need for online education versus the desire for it.

It seems that many schools from kindergarten through college seem to feel online education is the solution to many of their organizational and educational problems or as a standard for competing with rival schools to acquire new prospects. It is true that online education provides many tools to help provide support to instructors in their profession, as well as students in their development. Understanding the technology and learning how to wield it cannot ensure the success of online education alone - for solidifying its structure and development are also key.


Article for online education

Steele, J., and Brown, J. (1995), "Adolescent room culture: Studying media in the context of everyday life." Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 24 (5), p. 551-576.

This is one of the most important pieces of research ever written with regards to American youth and media use. It especially has some pertinence to understanding the expectations and needs involved in creating online education. Although this article is nearly a decade old, it touches on the reality that media is omnipresent is the lives of children from print to electronic media. In addressing the public’s concern over mass media effects of children and adolescents, Steele and Brown find that media are potentially influential upon American because children and adolescents spend more time with mass media than they do in school or with family. To fully understand this concept, one must consider how youth are exposed to and utilize mass media. In addition to “pedestrian” media such as print (newspapers, magazines, posters), most of today’s youth have such technological conveniences as the television, the radio, and computers not only in their schools as learning aids, but also in the homes and their rooms.

From this his article, media technology and media content are at the core of observing American youth’s lives. According to the researchers, media are not just observed in terms of material artifacts, but also as contexts by which youth engage in activities. Over a six-year span, the researchers interviewed children from ages 11 to 18 to study how

From their findings, Steele and Brown comprised a media practice model. The components for their model were:
-Selection: the act of choosing media or media-related alternatives influenced by motivations
-Interaction: cognitive, affective, and behavioral engagement with media producing cultural meanings
-Application: appropriation (Frequently visible and active use of media) or incorporation (associative and internalized use of media)
-Identity: Sensing one’s self through media

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