Medium as Communication Process Primitive

Davis Foulger
Oswego State University of New York

Competitively selected for presentation at the Fall, 2005 meeting of the National Communication Association.


The term medium has a long history in the field of communication. We invoke it in the introductory chapters of texts and have organized substantial theoretical traditions, including mass media theory, medium theory, and media ecology, around the term. It remains, however, that we treat the term loosely, often defining it in a circular or overly restrictive manner. This paper attempts to ground the term “medium” in an ecological model of the communication process and a set of formal propositions that might be regarded as providing an axiomatic underpinning to the fundamental constructs in our field. The propositions represent an attempt to capture the fundamental interaction of the three fundamental constructs - messages, languages, and media - that enable communication. Key issues in the interaction of these elements are the ways in which they enable each other, and their relationship to creators and consumers of messages. The heuristic value of the model for courses in interpersonal, organizational and mass communication is described along with the potential integrative value of the model for theory in each of these divisions of the field.


Shannon's (1948) model of the communication process provides, in its breakdown of the flow of a message from source to destination through a transmitter, a channel, and a receiver, a generic model of the operation of a medium of communication. Shannon's specific concern was the telephone, but the the model and the commonly invoked variants found in the introductory chapters of current communication textbooks (see, for instance, Adler, 1991; Adler, Rosenfeld, and Towne, 1996; Barker and Barker, 1993; Becker and Roberts, 1992; Bittner, 1996; Burgoon, Hunsaker, and Dawson, 1994; DeFleur, Kearney, and Plax, 1993; DeVito, 1994; Gibson and Hanna, 1992; Wood, 2002) can be applied generally to the description of many media. It may be considered somewhat ironic, then, that the definitions of “medium” found in these and other texts are frequently circular. A medium is frequently defined in these texts as a channel that enables communication. A channel is frequently defined, in these same texts, as a medium of communication. Examples frequently clarify the terms more closely (Foulger, 1990) such that a commonplace understanding of the terms emerges. Telephone wires and radio waves are treated as channels. The telephone and broadcast television systems are treated as media. Channel emerges as a carrier or substance capable of carrying signals from one place to another. Medium emerges as a system, frequently encompassing multiple channels, that enables the creation and consumption of messages.

This paper seeks to clarify the concept of medium by formally positioning it relative to two other critical communication process primitives, messages and language. It formally extents a model offered by Foulger (2002) and elaborated in Foulger (2004) as an ecological model of the communication process that builds on and extends commonly used communication models and grounding that model in a set of formal propositions that might be regarded as providing an axiomatic underpinning to the fundamental constructs in our field. That presentation begins with a definition of communication:

Definition: Communication is the process of by which people (Homo Sapiens Sapiens or other intelligent communicators) construct representations of meaning such that other people can interpret those representations.

Communication has been defined many times in many ways. It is hoped that most readers will find this definition to be fairly textbook (e.g. Reflective of commonplace conceptions of what communication is), as this paper builds on the three key elements of the definition. The first, people, people, refer to any species (Homo Sapiens Sapiens and, it is presumed, others), that can use tools to transmit meaning to other intelligent entities. The second element, process, refers to the dynamic quality of communication. Communication is not a thing. It is a means of enabling the creation and consumption of representations of meaning. The third, meaning, refers to the fundamental thing (if meaning can be regarded as a thing) that communication enables. Communication is a means of processing (e.g. constructing and interpreting) meaning

Primitives and Propositions for a Model of the Communication Process

People (generally defined) are treated as a primitive in these propositions. It is people that communicate. It is people who create, interpret, and retain a sense of meaning via the process of communication. Meaning itself is not treated as a primitive. Meaning resides within people and this is not a theory of meaning so much as it is a theory of enabling representations of meaning. We will shortly describe a primitive that acts as a representation of meaning. If, however, communication is a process that allows for the construction of representations of meaning such that they can be interpreted, it follows that communication is always mediated, at the very least, by those representations. This leads us to a first proposition of a theory of communication:

Proposition 1: All communication is mediated.

This should be a statement of the obvious. All communication is constructed in the form of messages and interpreted within the context of messages. At minimum, then, communication is mediated by messages. Messages are, however, necessarily constructed with language such that language mediates communication. The construction of meaning within the context of messages depends on a common vocabulary that allows the consumer of a message to at least have a chance of interpreting the message correctly. Both languages and messages, are, moreover, themselves enabled by media. Different media enable different languages and, through that differential enablement, different kinds of messages. There is always some gap that must be bridged in order for one person to share meaning with another, and it is the systems that enable such bridges that comprise the process of communication. These three variants of mediation lead us to a second proposition, which declares the three primitives.

Proposition 2: Communication is mediated by three separate but interrelated constructs: (1) the message, (2) the languages that the message is encoded in, and (3) the medium or media in which the encoded message is transmitted, stored, and/or processed.

There is a lot of detail buried in Proposition 2. Most fundamentally, the proposition declares messages, language, and media as primitives to this theory. This brings the total number of primitives associated with this theory of communication to four. It also establishes some relationships between these primitives. Specifically, it claims that messages are encoded with language and processed, stored, and/or transmitted via media. These interrelationships are layered in ways that will be explored in more detail below, but for now it is enough to note that all three constructs play an important role in enabling communication.

Separating the Primitives

Communication is defined above as a process through which people construct and interpret meaning for each other. There are two distinct acts associated with this definition, which can be used to usefully bifurcate our first primitive, people, into two essential roles. Creators of messages construct meaning such that it can be interpreted by others. Consumers of messages attempt to reconstruct that meaning based on the content of the message. While these fundamental "roles in media" (Foulger, 2002a, 2005) are not the only relationships that people have to communication systems, they are the most fundamental, and recur in virtually all media. This sets up a third proposition, which formally establishes the creation and consumption roles as a part of the model..

Proposition 3: When engaged in the process of communication, people act in two distinct roles: creator and consumer. The creation role is associated with the instantiation of representations of meaning. The consumption role is associated with the interpretation of representations of meaning. Each role has a different relationship to communication, even when both roles are concurrently associated with the same person.

Once again there is some complexity associated with the proposition. The creator and consumer roles are different, but may be (and often are) associated with the same person. There is some subtlety to this duality, which will be explored in more detail below. For the moment it is sufficient to have identified these roles as important parts of the model, and to note that there is nothing fundamentally new in the distinction. Models of the communication process routinely presume that there are at least two parties to any communication act. Most, moreover, presume some form of mediation, whether in the form of a gatekeeper (the two stage flow) or some combination of transmitter, receiver, channel, and message (Shannon's model). Indeed, it will be impossible to discuss creation or consumption further without reference to the messages people create and consume. Hence the second fundamental statement, this one establishing the fundamental relationship of messages to communication:

Proposition 4: Communication is instantiated in messages.

Communication is concerned, following this papers definition, with the construction representations of meaning such that other people can interpret those representations. Proposition 4 asserts that messages are a concrete realization of abstract meaning; that meaning is instantiated (made concrete or real) when people create a message. People interpret that representation when they consume a message. When people construct messages they do so using appropriate construction materials. Hence a fifth proposition:

Proposition 5: Messages are instantiated using language and media.

This may be the pivotal proposition of this paper and the model of communication it proposes. Neither the definition of communication nor Propositions 1 through 4 should be particularly controversial. Even within the scope of this proposition, it is doubtful that there would be much argument with the notion that messages are instantiated using language. The notion that messages are instantiated, even in part, using media, may, however, raise eyebrows. The statement is not without precedent. It might be inferred from the relationship of messages to transmitter, receiver, and channel in Shannon's model, which itself might be regarded as the structural outline of a simple medium. McLuhan, in claiming that "the medium is the message", suggests rather directly that one's choice of medium is a message in itself. It follows that the medium's message, to whatever extent it exists, contributes to the interpretation of any other message that is created within and consumed from that medium.

If we accept Proposition 5 it follows that:

Proposition 4.1: Communication is instantiated using languages and media.

While this is a strictly derivative proposition that follows, syllogistically, from Propositions 4 and 5, it is an important one, as it clarifies the nature of the mediation that language and media supply under Proposition 2. If communication is instantiated in messages and messages are instantiated using language and media, then communication is instantiated using language and media. Meaning resides in people (Definition of Communication and Proposition 3), however, such that they must know how to use languages and media (Proposition .4.1) if they are to create and consume messages (Proposition 3). Hence Proposition 6:

Proposition 6: People must learn language and media in order to be able to create and interpret messages.

This proposition states that if (following Proposition 3) people create and consume representations of meaning (e.g. messages, following Proposition 4), and if (following Proposition 5) messages are instantiated using language and media, then (following Proposition 4.1) people need to know how to use language and media in order to communicate. The proposition's presumption that language and media need to be learned (rather than simply "known") should not be regarded as stating anything more complicated than there is diversity of media and a wide diversity of languages, that different groups of people use different languages and, to at least some extent, different media, and that the specific languages and media that individual people use is a product of what they have learned rather than anything innate (this is by no means a statement that there are not structures of language that have a basis in the innate structure of the brain).. This is a particularly rich proposition insofar as a great deal of communication theory can be built up from it. Such will be largely beyond the scope of this paper.

It is important to also invert Proposition 6, for people don't simply learn and use language and media. They create them:

Proposition 7: People create (e.g. invent and evolve) languages and media.

Languages are artificial constructs. We invent them and, once invented and accepted as a shared system of meaning, we evolve them to meet our ever-changing needs. Language is neither invented nor evolved by any one person. It is, rather, mutually created and evolved through the usage choices (e.g. tacitly negotiated agreement) of many language users who use language as a means of translating their thoughts into messages. This is all but universally accepted in the study of language. The controversial questions in language are not concerned with whether or not we create language, but as to whether there are underlying structures of language are rooted in and constrained by brain structures (Pinker, 2000).

Media are artificial constructs. Given the over one hundred new media that have been created since 1900, this proposition ought to be a given in the study of media. Media have an apparent stability across languages and cultures that often lead, however, to the presumption of a "media determinism" that is often attributed to McLuhan (1964), Innis (1950) and others. In this view media are relatively fixed structures that have inherent effects on people and social systems. Here we assert that while both language and media may well exhibit a high degree of structural inertia (following the nomenclature of Giddens, 1984); that there are processes of change associated with each. Foulger (2002b) outlines one view of the processes of change within media.

A New Model of the Communication Process

These fundamental statements of relationship establish a series of general relationships between people, messages, language, media, and the communication they enable. The relationships are summarized, in somewhat greater detail than these propositions suggest, in Figure 1. In this figure, communication between people (creators and consumers) is mediated by three constructs, with language used to build messages within media. The model graphically depicts all of the propositions described above. Specifically it depicts people communicating (Definition of Communication) through the mediation (Proposition 1) of messages (Proposition 4) that are created and consumed (Proposition 3) using language within media (propositions 2, 5, and 4.1) . Languages and media are depicted as being both learned (proposition 6) and created (proposition 7). Ten relationships are summarized in the figure. While several of these relationships are described above, several derivative relationships are yet to be described, and some of the above relationships need to be broken out in more detail.

Figure 1: A Ecological Model of the Communication Process

This model is, in many ways, a more detailed elaboration of Lasswell's (1948) classic outline of the study of communication:

In the ecological model , the "who" are the creators of messages, the "says what" are the messages, the "in which channel" is elaborated into languages (which are the content of channels) and media (which channels are a component of), the "to whom" are the consumers of messages, and the effects are found in various relationships between the primitives, including relationships, perspectives, attributions, interpretations, and the continuing evolution of languages and media. Ten relationships are summarized in the figure. While several of these relationships are described above, several additional relationships are yet to be described, and some of the above relationships already described need to be broken out in more detail. Each of these relationships will be discussed below, occasionally with reference to an alternate depiction of the ecological model presented here.

Language and Message

The relationship of medium, language, and message, as described in Propositions 2 and 5, is central to Figure 1, with messages explicitly drawn within the context of language and media. This depiction explicit invokes two extensions of Proposition 5. The first, Proposition 5.1, extends the proposition with regard to language.

Proposition 5.1: Language shapes the possibilities associated with a message.

Messages are artificial constructs that are built within the constraints of language. A message consumer's correct interpretation of the meaning that a message creator intended depends on the existence of a shared semantics and syntax that both the creator and consumer know. Language provides that shared semantics and syntax such that, even if the semantics match imperfect and the syntax is abused, consumers can usually recreate a reasonable approximation of the message creator's intended meaning. But while language enables the sharing of meaning via messages, it also constrains our ability to share meaning through messages. Semiotic representations of phenomenal experience are necessarily imperfect in their representations. There is always a difficult to express nuance of detail that can be difficult to express using existing language semantics and syntax. Language shapes the possibilities associated with the messages they instantiate, both in terms of what can be expressed and what cannot be expressed. Hence Figure 1 depicts messages as being instantiated within language.

Medium and Language

It also depicts of language as being instantiated within media. This relationship may seem non-intuitive, if only because it is self-evident that there is no necessary dependency between most of the languages we normally use and any particular medium. The languages that we use are most often medium-independent such that we use the same language in a wide variety of media. We use written language, for instances, in dozens of distinct media, including books, newspapers, magazines, letters, memos, notes, e-mail, instant messaging, merchandise packaging, and many others (the titles and credits in movie and television shows, for instances). We use spoken language in movies, television, radio, recordings, telephone interaction, face-to-face interaction and many other media. We use a variety of visual nonverbal codes, including gesture, facial expression, eye contact, proximity, orientation, and other analogic codes in a wide variety of different media. There is nothing inherent to language that ties language to any particular medium.

It remains, however, that the range of language choices that one has available is strongly dependent on the medium that is used. It may be that many written language is used in many media, but it is equally true that there are many media which do not support written language and in which such languages are never used. This selective support of different kinds of language is central to one of the key observations of medium theory: that new media change the structure of power and the way we interact within social systems. When Innis (1950) and McLuhan (1964) point to a shift from orality to literacy as having powerful effects on social systems, they also point to changes in media as the engines of this change. Different media support different languages. New media sometimes enable new languages, and the people who master those languages are conferred advantages when those media succeed. This doesn't always happen. New media frequently piggyback on old media such that no new languages are necessary. But even when new media piggyback on old media, as occurred when television co-opted most of the content of radio, they often offer new languages that fundamentally change the ways in which we create and consume messages. Hence Proposition 8:

Proposition 8: Languages are instantiated using media. Every medium entails a set of possibilities for language that shapes what languages are used.

The instantiation of language in media is largely a function of a shared dependency on the production and sensory modalities through which users engage media and use language. Every medium supports a set of sensory modalities and a corresponding set of production modalities (e.g. means of signal production that can be sensed by means of one or more sensory modalities). These modalities provide the user interface that allows users to both create and consume content in a medium and the source of useful signifiers with which language is created. While there are many media (hundreds) and many more languages (thousands of oral languages alone), there are only a small number of modalities. Oral language, paralanguage, music, and other sources of audio signals can be heard, and there is a large set of media that support audio languages. Written language, gesture, facial expression, and other visual nonverbal codes can be seen, and there is a large set of media that support visual languages. While there are many media and many more languages, there are only a small number of modalities. It is this recurrence of a small number of modalities across a large number of languages and media that accounts for the recurrence of languages across media.

It is the modalities that characterize a medium determine what kinds of languages will be useful within that medium. Visual codes, whether in the form of written messages or facial expression, are simply unavailable as language choices in purely audio media like radio, the telephone, records, audio tapes, and CD's. Similarly, audio codes, including spoken language, paralinguistic utterances, music, audio sound effects, and audio feedback (applause, laughter) are simply unavailable as language choices in purely visual media like letters, books, newspapers, and photographs. Every medium supports a spectrum of languages, but not every language is available in every medium. Language is instantiated using media. We have some measure of choice in which languages we use to create messages, but the choices are always predicated on the possibilities presented by the medium that we choose.

Medium and Message

If messages are instantiated using language (Proposition 5.1) and language is instantiated using media (Proposition 8), it follows that messages are instantiated using media. There is, however, more to the relationship of message to medium than this syllogism suggests. There is at least a portion of the meaning in any message that is instantiated directly in the medium regardless of language choices. This is a fundamental of McLuhan's (1963) suggestion that "the medium is the message". The same language choices can mean very different in different media. Hence the second extension of Proposition 5:

Proposition 5.2: The medium shapes the possibilities associated with a message.

A book is different when read than it is when heard from an audio tape, even when the tape faithfully reproduces every word and avoids vocal detailing and characterization. A radio broadcast of that message would color the message in other ways, even if the message was not packaged between commercials. Radio broadcast bandwidth tends to be more limited, is more subject to noise, tends to be listened to in noisier contexts (typically while driving a car) and is more likely to be attended amidst a range of distractions, including traffic and the conversations of others in the car. Rendering a book in a visual medium, as might be done in a play, a movie, or a television program, will almost certainly change the presentation even more. Almost any translation of the written word to the non-verbally visual will highlight the surfaces of gesture, expression, action and dialogue over descriptive detail.

Only some of the differences are a function of the different modalities and languages supported by books, audio tapes, radio broadcast, plays, movies, and television. A lot of the difference is one more deeply embedded in the structure of the experience. A book can be easily read in pieces, a chapter here and a bit of a chapter there, with the reading experience spread out across hours, days, weeks, or even months. If a reader wants to check back on what was said in an earlier chapter, it’s often fairly easy to jump back to the earlier chapter, check the detail, and continue. Indeed, books frequently feature indexes and tables of content that make this easy. Reading a book is, in general, a solitary experience. Other people may have read the book before you. Some may be reading it at the same time. But it is only rarely that a book becomes a community event such that many people read it at the same time.

The usual experience of audio tape and radio broadcasts differs from that of reading a book. While audio tape can be listened to an individual, it is much easier for an audio tape to be listened to by an entire group, and it’s not unusual for groups to listen to recorded music together. While it is possible to stop and restart an audio recording, such behavior is far more unusual for an audio tape than it is for a book. While audio tapes may well include tracks, they are rarely indexed such that one can trivially jump back to a particular musical phrase and then continue. Radio, by contrast, is almost always heard by large numbers of individuals and groups who have no ability to control the playback. There is no indexing, no starting and stopping playback, and no referencing back to what was said or played 30 seconds ago.

Plays, movies, and television offer additional differences in the experience of the medium. All offer a visual richness that is unavailable in a book, an audio tape, or a movie. Each focuses on visual languages to an extent that these other media cannot. A play offers the differences to a relatively small audience (usually hundreds of people) in a format that allows for a limited amount of interaction. The audience of a play can and frequently will affect the performance of a play in ways that isn't possible in any of these other media. A movie that plays to full theaters will entertain hundreds of people at each showing, with thousands of showings occurring in parallel. While the audience of a movie will not generally be able to change the performance in any way, they can feed on each other’s reactions during the film. Their interaction with others after the showing will, moreover, often have major effects on how full the theater is for subsequent performances. While the audience of a television show is distributed across many homes and viewers can get up and move around whenever they like, the show may be seen by tens or hundreds of millions of people at the same time. If the reaction to a television event is strong enough, it can have immediate and sweeping effects within social systems.

There are other differences in the characteristics of media that matter to the way messages are consumed. There are literally hundreds of media that can be contrasted in terms of such differences as the kinds of messages we can construct, the number of people messages can reach, the speed with which those messages arrive, the length of time in which a message can be consumed, the relationship of consumers to messages when they are consumed, the uses to which media can be usefully applied, the effects messages within a media have, and the way people behave when creating, consuming, and processing messages within a medium. The modalities that a medium supports, the balance of language choices it enables, and the extent it supports different kinds of content is just a starting point for understanding how media shape the structure of our relationships, organizations, communities, and social systems. This media-based shaping of the structure of our relationships and the social structures in which those relationships are embedded may be the fundamental observation of media ecology that binds the work of Innis (1950), McLuhan (1964), Ong (1982), Postman (1986), Levinson (2001), Meyrowitz (1986) and others into a cohesive vision of media and its relationship to society.

Creator, Consumer, and Message

Perhaps the most fundamental of these relationships is that between messages and the people who create and consume them. If all communication that occurs between creators and consumers of messages (Proposition 3) is mediated (Proposition 1) by messages, languages, and media (Proposition 2), several things necessarily follow. First, communication is indirect and is by no means guaranteed. We can insert languages into a medium, but we cannot insert them into other people. They have to choose to retrieve the message. Hence proposition 3.1:

Proposition 3.1: Neither the act of creating a message nor the act of consuming a message necessarily ensure that communication (e.g. the interpretation of represented meaning) will occur. One can not communicate, but it is consumers of messages, rather than creators of messages, who decide what will and will not be communicated. Creators of messages have very little control of the communication process once their message is in the medium.

This proposition will doubtless be viewed by many as sufficiently controversial as to invalidate this paper. The proposition that "one cannot not communicate" (Watzlawick, Beavin, & Jackson, 1966) is a fundamental tenet of Interpersonal Communication, and this author will not argue the proposition within the context in which it was observed and is normally offered, face-to-face communication in which all participants speak the same language. When two people are in the same place, air and light are present such that they can observe each other, and either party chooses to pay attention to the other, one cannot not communicate. Even a choice, by one party, to ignore and otherwise avoid communicating with the other person can be viewed as a communicative act. There are, however, hundreds of media, and many of those media give creators and consumers choices such that an attempt to not communicate will simply be unobservable or an attempt to communicate will never be observed. With few exceptions, attempts to insert languages into a medium such that they will be observed by specific others will fail. With few exceptions, consumption of messages within a medium by no means assures that messages that have been created will be observed, that a failure to create messages even can be observed, or that the presence of another participant in a medium will be observable.

Even if messages are observable, there is no assurance that the consumer of the message will be able to interpret anything approximating the meaning the message creator intended, or any meaning at all. There is a growing body of evidence that a variety of different animals not only communicate, but learn to do so. Elephants express emotion (Masson and McCarthy, 1995). Whales use dialects (Ford and Mabry, 2001). Parrots can both interpret and create representations of meaning (Pepperberg, 2002) and have even learned to use user interfaces to communicate through computers (Fulton, 2003). There are species of birds that recognize each others calls, incorporate the calls of others into their repertoire (often with an apparent intent to deceive), and that even use invented media by adapting implements to the task of creating messages (Attenbourough, 2002). A growing body of evidence ties dolphins, apes, and parrots to language skills (Hillix, Rumbaugh, and Hillix, 2004). In those rare instances where consistent interspecies communication has been achieved, we have had to establish both a language and a system of communication (a medium) that generally involved a subset of the modalities we usually use or a set of extended modalities. Where we don't do these things, we simply do not understand interspecies messages.

Second, meaning does not exist in language, media, or messages. It exists in the people who create and consume messages. Language is a set of representations and ways of assembling those representations that we attach to meaning in consistent ways. Media provide a means of capturing those representations as signals such that they can be retrieved by a consumer of messages. Messages are ordered collections of representations of meaning that can be captured within a medium and interpreted by people who know the language in which they are constructed. People construct and interpret meaning. Messages, languages, and media simple enable representations of that meaning to be constructed by one person and retrieved by another. Messages are, at best, approximations of the meaning a creator intends. They will almost certainly be interpreted somewhat differently by consumers of messages. Hence Propositions 4.2 and 4.3:

Proposition 4.2: Messages are an approximation of the meaning a creator of messages intends.

The primary relationship of a communicator to a message is one of imagination. A communicator imagines something that they would like to communicate to one or more other people. The message itself is an indirection of that imagined thought through language and media, with language selections nuanced by the medium selected. It is not clear that any message that is created in a shared meaning system can ever hope to fully and accurately capture the communicator’s original imagination and intent. This is true in part because messages are inefficient and slow when compared with thought such that no message can fully capture everything we might like to say. This is true in part because language is an inexact social approximation of personally experienced meaning.

Proposition 4.3: Interpretation of the messages consumed from a medium is approximate.

Even when people decide to consume messages from a medium, there is no assurance that they will consume any particular message. People are masters of selective attention. They attend to what they care about, and often do so in the intersection of conflicting demands on their attention. Watching television with a friend may mean shifting attention between conversation with the friend and monitoring the content of the show, which itself is most often selected against a backdrop of dozens of possibilities. Audiences not only decide which media they consume messages from, but which messages they consume, and their decisions are a part of the overall negotiation that informs message, language, and media practice.

Those decisions are cumulative. Messages and the interactions they emerge from are cumulative. Ultimately, meaning is cumulative. We not only learn media and language as a part of the process of communicating. We learn each other as a part of that process. We interpret each other as we interpret each other’s messages. We make attributions. We form perceptions. We create relationships, families, communities, organizations, and social systems. Hence Proposition 8:

Proposition 9: Consumption of messages allows consumers to form perceptions of and even establish (at least in their own minds) relationships with the creators of messages.

In short, by enabling messages, media and language contribute to the formation of human ecologies.

Conclusion: Heuristic and Theoretical Value

It is to be hoped that this paper will be regarded as a restatement of the obvious. Nothing written here is new. Even the most outrageous propositions outlined here have been argued by others, and perhaps in the same way. What is hoped is new is the integration of many threads to create a more systematic view of the relationship of both language and media to messages and communication. The author has found considerable value in this model and its associated Propositions in organizing and teaching classes in Interpersonal, Mass, and Organizational communication. In Interpersonal Communication classes the model has shown considerable value in tying such diverse topics as listening, relationship development, miscommunication, and perception and attribution to a consistent view of the process of communication. In an Organizational Communication class the model has shown considerable value in showing the ways in which different theoretical models of organizational communication have developed from one another and relate to one another. In Media Criticism classes the model has proved invaluable as a way of organizing varied critical methods within a single model.

It is hoped, however, that the primary value of the model will be theoretical. As a field, communication is encompasses a wide range of very different and largely unintegrated theories and methods. Context-based gaps in the field like the one between mass media and interpersonal communication have been equated to those of "two sovereign nations," with "different purposes, different boundaries", "different methods", and "different theoretical orientations" (Berger and Chaffee, 1988), causing at least some to doubt that the field can ever be united by a common theory of communication (Craig, 1999). It may be that complex model of the communication process that bridges the theoretical orientations of interpersonal, organizational, and mass media perspectives can help to bridge this gap and provide something more than the kind of metamodel that Craig calls for. Defining media directly into the process of communication may help to provide the kind of substrate that would satisfy Cappella's (1991) suggestion we can "remake the field by altering the organizational format", replacing contexts with processes that operate within the scope of media. This perspective does exactly that. The result does not integrate all of communication theory, but it may provide a useful starting point on which a more integrated communication theory can be built. The construction of such theory is the author's primary objective in forwarding this model for your comment and, hopefully, your response.


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