Is the message in the medium? How does technology change the the meaning behind our communication?

Does the medium we use when we connect with others change our message? Does it matter if we say something via text, Facebook, Skype or Twitter? As technology continues to expand, and we are constantly connected and connecting with others, does the format we use change how a message is received or are the feelings and ideas behind that message perceived differently with different mediums?


Back in 1964 Marshall McLuhan first discussed this idea in his famous study “Understanding Media: The extension of Man”.  He looked at the way getting a message via different mediums actually determines the way the message is perceived and thus coined the phrase “The medium is the message”. Hearing about a tragedy via a radio broadcast for example, does not have the same impact were we to witness it live via satellite, with moving pictures on our screens. Now Marshall wasn’t around to witness the expansion of the media to include the internet, but his study still forms the basis of many concepts relating to how we send and receive messages and it is possibly even more relevant today with the advances of technology and the online world.

Do you think about how your message may be received differently if you send a message via Facebook as opposed to an email or a phone call? Is this something our kids will need to be more conscious of when it comes to understanding how they want to be perceived?

I often wish people a Happy Birthday via Facebook. I think it is kind of nice to take a few seconds to let that person know you are thinking of them. My closer friends however, I always ring. They need to know that my message to them is possibly more heartfelt as I would always have rung them in the past. To me therefore, the medium of a phone is more meaningful than an email, Facebook, tweet or text. It is that personal connection that needs to take place. I also want them to know that I am not saying Happy Birthday simply because it popped up on my screen when I logged on to Facebook. I want them to know that I knew their birthday was coming up. It is hand written in my paper diary.

What about Christmas cards? Will you send them this year? Will you instead make an online card and email it out to all on your contact list? Will you tweet a ‘Merry Christmas’ or Facebook a photo of your family draped in tinsel? Or do you feel you already have enough contact with your friends online that you don’t need to bother?  After all, they will see my photos from Christmas Day, I will like their status update about a new present, I will comment on their beautifully decorated Christmas tree via Instagram and I will repin the recipe for their famous eggnog onto my Pinterest board. Does all this extra communication and connecting mean it is less or more personal than a hand written card?

The advances in technology have certainly had an enormous impact on the way we connect and communicate, but do you think it is making us more or less connected?

Do you think about how you want a message to be conveyed when you decide what medium to use, whether you want to say hello via Facebook, Twitter or email? Or is it purely a convenience factor?

(Lots of questions in this post, mainly because I am still pondering it all… feel free to add your thoughts on any of them!!)


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This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. iSophie

    I am going to be taking a Christmas photo of the boys to send to our friends and family. Last year I sent cards, but had the boys decorate them with drawings. Before that I didn’t send cards, I am glad I started, our relatives especially love receiving them.

  2. Lydia c lee

    I still send Xmas cards as I like to personalise each one (I write a letter on the card, for those OS or interstate). I’ve found this provokes a guilt apology email, even tho they should know by now I don’t expect anything in return) I find with some people on Facebook it’s a pretense of keeping in touch where as some it’s a genuine interaction….funny really.

  3. Mums Take Five

    I dont put my bday on facebook my thought is if you really wanted to say happy bday you’d know what day it was. However if i do see someone elses bday i will say it to them.
    I’m pretty useless with bday cards but i do send christmas cards.
    interesting isnt it – everyones thoughts

  4. Michelle @ Blundermum

    It also matters who your audience is. Digital natives value a Facebook or tweet more than a phone call, partly because they’re more comfortable interacting via these social mediums and partly because they live their lives publicly.
    My nanna called my house phone to wish me happy birthday and it scared the whatsits out of me. The landline rang! I only have it there so kids can call 000 if necessary. Nanna had gotten out her whitepages (paper) and looked up my number, and called it – as her generation does.
    My great-nanna would have visited for coffee and cake.
    My siblings sent a text or facebook post.

    You can guess which medium it felt more normal to receive the congratulations through.

    I guess I lean towards those who’ve taken McLuhan’s theories further, to web 2.0, but by web 3.0 I show my age, as I don’t live on twitter or instagram, and I can’t see communication retaining the intended message once the next big thing comes along.

  5. Carly

    I sometimes think we have gone too far when a FB Happy Birthday is deemed acceptable between family members and close friends.
    I have also had to educate my Granny that a text for our birthday’s is not ok. We all love that she is super cool and on the lowdown with all her fancy acronyms but at the the end of the day I would much rather talk to her.

  6. EssentiallyJess

    I had never thought about this.
    My preferred method of cummincation is always text. I’m not a huge fan of the phone, for whatever reason. Don’t mind Facebook or twitter
    I’m like you and have more questions than answers.

  7. Becc

    I remember many moons ago when email was the big thing. I actually got a reputation as being a bit of a bitch and had to ask people to read it in the manner that I would speak it (how about I just get off my arse and talk to them face to face???).
    Christmas cards in my mind always rule. I don’t hate the online versions, but really prefer to have the card (hopefully with pictures and maybe some info on what they’ve been up to). They also add to the decorations of the house and it’s fun to anticipate who has put in the effort to send you one 🙂
    Becc via #FYBF

  8. Me

    We were just talking about this at work yesterday. Many people seem to have lost touch with actually seeing real live people because they are so up to date on what is happening in everyone’s life, they don’t feel the need to actually catch up face to face. In the past, families would picnic or BBQ togethe – now they are in constant contact via FB or twitter and so the need seems to have fallen by the way side. It is a sad situation and one that you have to make a conscious decision to change or it will continue to be this way – I think anyway.
    We have a standing monthly get together with our family – a BBQ down at a local park – everyone brings their own – and we always have such a great time.
    Have the best weekend !
    #FYBF visitor

  9. Chantelle Dalgarno

    For me Facebook is for saying happy birthday to acquaintances, a phone call is for friends and actual cards sent via snail mail are for family.

    Big news? Pregnancy, engagements, weddings, etc?

    Firmly in the phone call or face to face category only. Facebook is just too impersonal for it.

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