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  • Writer's pictureStavros Papagianneas

Is the Medium the Message?

“The medium is the message” is a phrase coined by communications theorist Marshall McLuhan back in 1964. He tried to explain that the form media takes actually embeds itself in the message and influences how that message is perceived. In his book Understanding the Media: The Extensions of Man, he states that:

“In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational, and practical fact, the medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium–that is, of any extension of our-selves–result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.”

In 1964, McLuhan was right. 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. And that is absolutely right. The medium can be the message itself if it delivers content that would otherwise be impossible to access.

But he was also wrong. Born in 1911 and passing away in 1980, McLuhan had no opportunity to experience the Internet the way we know it today. There were no websites. There was no email. Nobody was writing blogs. There was no Facebook or Twitter. Even so, that didn’t stop him from exerting a huge influence on digital media. It was McLuhan who first spoke about technology and communication having the ability to create a “global village”.

As an early pioneer of the study of communication and its evolution over time, McLuhan introduced many observations about the impact of new forms of communications and media. Today, however, we sometimes have the impression that because we have posted something on our website, or sent out an email, or posted a blog, or sent out a tweet, that we have communicated.

Nowadays, communication disruption is present in all organisations – private and government; unilateral and multilateral. Digital technology is rapidly disrupting institutions and corporations. New technologies and innovative start-ups emerge every day. Simply put: the balance of power has changed. The reputation of a brand can be severely damaged in minutes. Brand loyalty, reputation, credibility, and trust are increasingly influenced by people’s experiences.

As George Bernard Shaw famously said: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”. Your medium is not always your message. Your PC, laptop, smartphone, the Internet, social media platforms do not communicate. They are just tools, and you may not be communicating the message you think you are. Since the early days of communication, humanity has been captivated by its methods to deliver and preserve information. How we communicate with each other defines who we are. How we communicate makes a culture and an individual unique.

Effective communication is important in both personal and professional aspects of our lives, particularly as ineffective communication can create short- and long-term issues. Many organisations often do not think about communicating while doing it but concentrate on how sending and receiving information might eliminate problems and improve relationships.

Communication is effective if everything in the communication process goes as planned, and when the recipient understands the message in the way the sender intended.

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