I propose that they can. So can people, as I argued in Warhol as Simulacra.
The background for making this statement comes from a lot of personal observation >>pseudo-ethnographic research<< of people in various fields (academic, the art world, business world, etc.) interacting with each other. Now, I'm going to use a bit of theory to talk about how a complex theory experiences degradation into a simple signified, like chemical compounds into atoms.
Social Network Theory is perhaps the best model for explaining the social arrangement of individuals from a communications perspective. Individuals exists as nodes in a network and their relation to others within the network is based on a number of capital forms (a la Bourdieu): economic, cultural and symbolic capital, which all contribute to the creation and maintenance of social capital. Since Bourdieu, there has been evidence to believe that the main currency form for any of these types of capital -- the true atom of exchange -- is data or information. When information flows through a network, like data transmitted via the internet, it travels most quickly (speed=efficiency in this model) when it is in its smallest form, the most minimum derivative possible that still contains the essence of the information being communicated. For example, web developers will place a handful of thumbnail images on the main page of an online photo gallery. By using thumbnail images -- smaller, lower-quality versions of the original, the photo gallery site loads faster and individuals accessing the site can browse to find what they are looking for in a much more efficient manner.
In conversation, we often use language that reveals our educational and cultural background -- our linguistic habitus -- which itself changes given the context from which we are speaking. In linguistics, this is called a linguistic register (for example, "doctor speak" or "legal jargon") and having command of this register within particular contexts, or, in certain temporal and spatial network configurations, adds to our overall social and symbolic capital; if we communicate our product effectively with appropriate command of the business world register, we are more likely to make that sale or win that potential client's trust. The trust is earned because in literally "speaking the same language" we see ourselves in the Other (Lacan: "There I am!") with whom we are communicating and this (mis)recognition confirms our existence as individuals in the world.
So, enter postmodernity and its theories of fragmentation. Enter interdisciplinarity, and the growing opinion that it is now a preferred methodology to pick and choose what we like from across any discipline in order to serve our own hypotheses and research needs.
As a researcher trying to cull together an interdisciplinary approach to understanding communication policy, we are reading copious amounts of theories from many different arenas, some of which are completely new and foreign to the three (including myself) students and professor working on the project. Ambitious? Yes. Feasible? Yes. Without potential "invisible" consequences to the theories employed? No.
EXAMPLE FROM TODAY...We have been reading about Multiple Stream (MS) theory which describes how certain policy issues get on the agenda, and how decisions are made. Having read the chapter three weeks ago, we came into today's meeting looking to see how the theory fit into our overall theoretical framework for the research. I re-read the chapter just prior to our meeting, preparing to defend my suspicion that the complexity of stream theory had been lost over the past few weeks and that a nebulous, tiny fragment of the full theory had taken its place. I was right. Instead of remembering or accounting for some very crucial nuances embedded within the theory, the idea of the theory, its sign, had come to be circulated within the minds of the individuals and in our conversations. Our four-person network had elicited a deterioration of the theory that, without serious attention to its detail within our book, could have gone on into the minds of the readers of our research as merely this stand-in, this simple sign. This would be dangerous because once an idea enters into network exchange, it travels as this atomized, data form which in turn populates itself into each of the nodes on the network that comes into contact with it. So, a watered-down, simulacra like form would only perpetuate throughout the network.
-----More on this later....Yes, this will be a major component of my thesis...