Electronic media have become more personal, and a far more integrated part of our lives. And the way we understand and use technology may influence us more than the messages we get from the technology.
I'm John Sturtevant, and this is Say What?! a weekly podcast with quick tips to help you communicate clearly at work at home and everywhere else you go.
Welcome to Say What?! Episode 4. This week - The Medium and The Message.
Yesterday I mowed my lawn, and as often happens when I mow the grass, I begin to drift into a sort of trance induced by the rhythmic whirrrr of my EGO battery powered lawnmower, which, by the way, I highly recommend if you're considering replacing your noisy, leaky, petrol powered grass cutter.
And as I glided back and forth across the yard in green meditation, my mind opened to random thoughts, Marshall McLuhan popped in for a visit.
Back in the '70s, McLuhan's suggested electronic media, which were then television and radio, heavily influenced the shape of society.
In fact, he suggested electronic media were an extension of our central nervous system. He described media as creating a new form of awareness that affects everyone. And he summed up his ideas and his well known phrase –The medium is The Message.
McLuhan suggested the effect of content is independent of, and less important than the effect of the media itself. In other words, the way we understand and use technology influences us more than the messages we get from the technology.
To me, that idea is even more evident now. Electronic media have become more personal and a far more integrated part of our lives. And so the medium – the means we use to communicate – has an even more dramatic effect on how we define our awareness and how we communicate.
The media world has changed significantly since back in 1996 when Bill Gates proclaimed Content is King and suggested companies will struggle to make money through advertising on the Internet.
Content is all around us, but over 80% of it is sponsored content, and we can access all of it instantly.
We don't have less time to read. We have less patience with what we read because there's more of it than ever in the history of reading, and most of it is available to us 24 hours a day from anywhere we happen to be.
But there seems to be a trend influenced by the changes in technology. Many people seem less interested in reflecting on ideas from what they read and more interested in quick and effortless entertainment from what they read. Fear of Missing Out seems to rule over Curiosity to Know.
TikTok, Instagram memes, Snapchat, Tumblr, they're all somewhat different in terms of content, but similar in terms of the instant gratification they provide. I'm not being a curmudgeon and saying we should all sit around for hours discussing Dostoyevsky, although actually that does sound nice with a glass of Laphroaig.
I do think those new media are wonderful ways to communicate, but I also know there's something sublime about person to person conversation.
I think the format of our communication effects, how we communicate and the benefits we get from communication with another person.
I do think the medium affects the message.
My wife and I take walks together at least twice a day. Sometimes we walk in quiet contemplation, but during most of our walks we have conversations and new ideas always emerge from those walks and talks.
We dream up, do things we'd like to do together, we find solutions for things we've been mulling over. We resolve issues at work or with family or other parts of our lives.
And while walking does get the blood moving. It's also very relaxing for the body and the mind. There's a well known connection between the pace of walking and thinking. In a similar way that various tempos and music excite different feelings, the rhythm of our steps stimulates our mind in a unique way that other forms of exercise do not.
There was a great article in The New Yorker a few years ago, written by Ferris Jaber called Why Walking Helps Us Think. Jaber describes what happens in our minds when we wander. In the article he writes - "...because we don't have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking our attention is free to wander – to overlay the world before us with a parade of images from the mind's theater."
He goes on to describe studies on how walking has a positive effect on creative thinking and innovative ideas. You'll also find a link here: https://www.johnsturtevant.com/podcast/
I believe we evoke essentially different parts of ourselves when we communicate in different ways – through email, making a presentation, leading a meeting, chatting in the hallway, participating in a Zoom conference, or walking and talking.
There's also a more reflective quality about in person conversation that is difficult, or even impossible to achieve with the other medium. And subtle emotions and meanings are easier to convey when we're in conversations. We use emojis of memes in an attempt to replace that subtlety. But while that's fun, it's just not the same as the personal connection of a conversation, especially while strolling.
Plus, it's just a nice way to spend time together.
So this week, why not look for opportunities for conversation? Even if there are six feet between you. Who knows? You might just discover it's a rare medium when well done.
That's Say What?! for this week. Thanks for listening.
The music on today's episode is from guitarist Robbie Sturtevant, his band, Tthe Quins are one of the hottest new groups coming out of Boston. Check them out at the thequinesband.com and on Facebook and Instagram @thequins. You'll also find a link here: https://www.johnsturtevant.com/podcast/