On the Medium and the Message

The medium dictates the message in collaborative, organizational spaces.

On the Medium and the Message
Photo by Pawel Czerwinski / Unsplash

We misunderstand media platforms when we consider them simply as neutral conduits for our messages to be distributed. Twitter isn’t just a platform for our tweets; the architecture of the platform dictates the type of message we choose to convey. Twitter forces us to be pithy and reductionist, turning nuanced ideas into fortune-cookie life lessons.

The same is true with other media: encoded in the DNA of television as a medium is a mandate to entertain, and the messages (shows, movies, etc.) built on that medium are infused with this entertaining DNA. Podcasts as a medium invite a more conversational, exploratory message. Long-form journalism as a medium gives permission for the slow building of an argument, while also granting us the space to play with nuance. Poetry as a medium allows us to access the lyrical and metaphorical roots of our message.

The medium dictates the message in collaborative, organizational spaces as well. When all of our interactions with our colleagues are on Slack or over Zoom, then it follows that those mediums are also shaping the messages transmitted over them. I don’t think we’re fully aware of the ways our collaborative mediums — particularly when we spend the vast majority of our time collaborating on platforms that flatten the human experience — are influencing the culture, vocabulary, and practices inside organizations.

I read an article a few months ago about how delivery apps like Uber Eats and DoorDash are commodifying the dining and eating experience, denuding these moments of their rich, multi-sensory dimensions and turning them into something defined by convenience, speed, and price. I think the same thing is happening with organizational cultures when we ignore the ways our mediums are shaping our messages: we’ll wake up one day to find that the rich, multi-sensory experience of organizational culture has been stripped down to its most transactional underpinnings. Organizations interested in cultivating rich, human cultures will need to diversify their mediums not just between virtual and in-person, but by focusing on building elevated moments where the experience itself invites us to show up differently.