A major tent of communication theory is that content can be distinguished from the medium in which it appears. But in traditional organizational media such as memos, reports, meetings, and face-to-face conversation, the process of "communication" rarely distinguishes content from medium, and therefore the medium's constraints upon the type of organizational content possible may not be immediately obvious. Although research on topics such as the rise of modern and group decision making does consider such distinctions, the diffusion of computer-mediated communication systems has highlighted this issue.
Since many kinds of content can be digitized by the computer and exchanged through telecommunications networks, content is now physically, instead of only theoretically, separable from its particular medium of transmission. Both content and medium can thus differentially influence how organizational members use and evaluate organizational information. This simultaneous separability, blurring, and interaction of content and medium generates both obstacles to and opportunities for communication within organizations. In particular, this article focuses on one of the most important aspects of organizational communication in rapidly changing environments, that of innovation.
Computer-mediated communication systems (CMCS) have already been shown to be associated with persistent, although malleable and nonrevolutionary, differences in organizations. But these relationships have been described in many separate studies and scattered in many fields. In bringing together these studies in a framework that integrates an understanding of criteria for evaluating characteristics of both media and content with an input-conversion-output model of organizational information processing, I hope to illuminate the potential for CMCS to facilitate organizational innovation as well as to identify the process by which CMCS themselves are adopted and reinvented.