As a process of conveying and receiving information, communication is an integral part of everyday life. Today, people are surrounded by a plethora of messages delivered to them via a variety of different channels, including writing, audio, video, live, digital, and social media. However, not all messages are effectively delivered, with the medium through which they are presented playing a substantial role in how the intended audience perceives them. A communication theorist, Marshall McLuhan, once stated that “the medium is the message,” arguing that the method of communication holds as much value as the content. This essay will discuss the statement above and discuss why the form and the message are of equal importance.
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“The medium is the message” is a central assertion in modern communication theory. It argues that the channel through which information is delivered can be equally or even more important than the message itself. The method selected for specific communication can either emphasize an idea or result in it being misconstrued. According to Declercq (2019, p. 124), the form in which the notion is delivered “determines the impact of the message.”
An ineffective and unmemorable medium can result in similarly weak messaging and failure to present the intended idea to the target population. For example, Declercq (2019) notes that in the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church’s campaign for the destruction of written documents and books was carried out through the burning of papers, not simple ripping, or another act. Ritual burning was believed to be more impactful as it had a strong visual and symbolic component of the fire consuming the written word (Declercq, 2019). The method of communication made it more prominent, accentuating the envisioned idea. Thus, the medium itself became the message, as it would not be as powerful if presented via another form.
The statement “the medium is the message” allows us to understand better what forms of communication are effective for given purposes and what should be avoided. Furthermore, it illustrates that people experience various media differently. The same message delivered via several forms will not be equally efficient in each of them. For instance, the confiscation of books and documents in Middle Ages Europe, their disposal via tearing, or even banners imploring citizens to throw them away would not be as effective as ritualistic burning. Destruction by fire was a more meaningful medium at the time, and without using it, the Church would not convey its message as successfully as it did.
Similarly, today some media are viewed as more meaningful than others. However, the form should also complement the message it spreads. Thus, if a piece of information is better presented visually, its transmission via radio or a podcast will not be poignant enough to fully convey it with all its subtleties. Moreover, such a presentation may even undermine the message and lead to it being misinterpreted. Overall, the medium of communication is as important as the content.
In summary, Marshall McLuhan’s statement that “the medium is the message” is accurate in its idea of the importance of the method of communication in the transmission of its content. An effective form can substantially enhance the message, ensuring that it is more impactful for the target audience. At the same time, a poorly selected channel can result in weak messaging and the devaluation of the content of the presented information.
Declercq, G. (2019). The medium and the message: The public destruction of books and documents in the European Middle Ages. In C. Kühne-Wespi, K. P. Oschema, & J. F. Quack (Eds.), Zerstörung von Geschriebenem: Historische und transkulturelle Perspektiven (pp. 123–148). Walter de Gruyter GmbH.
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