Is the Medium Really the Message?

marketing mediumsGuest post from Mike Smith at Wordsmith Creative

When communications guru Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase, “The medium is the message” back in 1964 he was trying to help people understand that the form media takes actually embeds itself in the message and influences how that message is perceived. Messages that reached audiences through radio or TV were perceived differently than messages that came through print. McLuhan maintained that the ways the messages were delivered were, in fact a part of the message. McLuhan was absolutely right.

He was also wrong.

Actually, McLuhan (who was much smarter than I am) wasn’t wrong. But sometimes those of us who make our living in some kind of communication capacity are guilty of making his phrase say something it never really meant.

When Marshall McLuhan began talking about the medium being the message, nobody had heard of the Internet. There were no websites. There was no email. Nobody was writing blogs. Twitter? That’s what birds or polite ladies did.

Today, however, we’re sometimes under the impression that because we’ve posted something on our website, or sent out an email, or posted a blog, or sent out a tweet, that we’ve communicated.

Your medium isn’t really your message.

A shovel doesn’t dig a hole. A scalpel doesn’t perform surgery. And a computer (whether it’s a desktop, laptop, or mobile device) doesn’t communicate. These are all tools. They require thoughtful planning and skillful wielding in order to deliver the desired results. Just because you blogged about a topic doesn’t mean that your message came through. Just because you tweeted doesn’t mean people heard—or understood. But there’s something else to consider.

You Cannot Not Communicate.

I had a college journalism professor who was fond of saying, “You cannot not communicate.” The double negative drove the English majors crazy, but his point was sound. You are always communicating. But you may not be communicating the message you think you are. And even your silence carries a message—intentional or not.

Is your communication intentional? Do you have clear goals when you send out a message? Do you understand your audience? Are you speaking to them in a way they will understand? Are you getting through? How is your audience reacting? How do you know?

What do you think? Is the medium really the message?

[BTW, the book shown above was written after McLuhan coined the phrase, “The message is the media.” Rumor has it that the title The Medium is the Massage was actually a typo, and the book was originally entitled The Medium is the Message, but McLuhan (having a sense of humor) preferred the typo.]