Evolving Information Ecologies: The Appropriation of New Media in Organizations

Evolving Information Ecologies: The Appropriation of New Media in Organizations

Hanne Westh Nicolajsen (Technical University of Denmark, Denmark) and Jorgen P. Bansler (Technical University of Denmark, Denmark)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-378-4.ch018
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This chapter examines how people in organizations appropriate new computer-based media, that is, how they adopt, reconfigure, and integrate advanced communication technologies such as groupware or desktop conferencing systems into their work practice. The chapter presents and analyzes findings from an in-depth field study of the adoption and use of a Web-based groupware application—a “virtual workspace”—in a large multinational firm. The analysis focuses, in particular, on the fact that people in modern organizations have plenty of media at their disposal and often combine old and new media to accomplish their work tasks. Furthermore, it highlights the crucial role of organizational communication genres in shaping how people adopt and use new media. The authors argue that understanding and facilitating the process of appropriation is the key to the successful introduction of new media in organizations.
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Theoretical Background

Technology appropriation is the process by which people in organizations adopt, reconfigure, and integrate new technologies into their work practice (Dourish, 2003). This involves not only adapting or “customizing” the technology to suit local needs and requirements, but also devising appropriate ways of using the technology for one’s own, particular purposes. As Dourish (2003) points out, understanding how people appropriate new CMC technologies is a “key problem” for both researchers and practitioners, “since it is critical to the success of technology deployment” (p. 465).

Attempts to introduce new CMC technologies in organizations often fail because managers and technologists underestimate the time and effort it takes successfully to appropriate and incorporate a new communication medium into the existing “information ecology,” that is, the system of people, practices, genres, and information and communication technologies in the local environment. Appropriation is difficult to achieve because information ecologies are diverse, continually evolving, and “marked by strong interrelationships and dependencies among [the] different parts” (Nardi & O’Day, 1999, p. 51). For instance, communication media, genre repertoires (that is, the set of genres in use within a community [Orlikowski & Yates, 1994]), and local work practices are interrelated and fit together in complex and subtle ways.

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