“The medium is the message.”

Communications scholar Marshall McLuhan coined this well known phrase, meaning how you say something matters just as much as what you say. How pertinent a statement in this generation of text messages, snap chats, and IM’s (instant messages). All of these mediums of communication have complicated our relationships. Each new medium provides us with a distinctive choice and each choice communicates something different.

The medium you choose in-part communicates what you are actually saying. For example, someone who is called a friend on Facebook may not be called a friend in verbal conversation. The word “friend” can have different meanings dependent on the medium of communication being used. A “friend” identified on Facebook is most likely an acquaintance, while a “friend” identified in verbal conversation is most likely an individual with whom you have spent countless hours and share a wealth of commonalities.

Different mediums say different things

Different mediums of communication provide different communications in themselves. Some of these communications are obvious, like the differences in the use of the word “friend.” Others, however, are not so obvious—especially for those of us who are not relationally adept (think Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory).

phoneHave you ever been accused of not fully expressing your feelings to your friend or significant other even though you can vividly remember sending several text messages, tweets, and wall postings using words like happy, mad, sad, or glad? Perhaps it was not that the words were inadequate, but the medium in which it was communicated. The phrase “I love you,” displayed via text message or uttered at the end of a phone conversation, does not have the depth of meaning it does when it is intentionally stated while looking into the eyes of your companion.

The pluses and minuses of text messaging

Many people utilize text messaging as their preferred method of communication. When asked why they like text messaging, it normally comes down to time efficiency. Text messaging is efficient at communicating factual information quickly. It is an excellent medium to let your spouse know that you are dropping the kids off at Grandma’s. It does not require the usual conversation etiquette or niceties that we’ve come to expect with most forms of verbal communication, such as feigning interest or allowing for the natural progression of a conversation, which normally contains a beginning, middle, and end. Verbal conversations take much more time and energy.

Text messaging is quick and dirty, and we love it. However, text messaging is not a good medium to express your feelings—especially affection. Part of its inadequacy to display affection might actually be due to its time-efficient nature. Some things like feelings require time-inefficient mediums of communication—it is the only way that they can be properly communicated. Feelings like affection need time before the other individual can understand the depth of your emotions.

The medium should match your message

Time allows the other to understand that he or she is worth engaging with—at that moment worth more than work, chores, school, sports, etc. Taking time to sit down and verbally talk to another adds an additional layer of communication that cannot be replaced by other more current mediums. According to emotional intelligence trainer Patricia Harmon (2013), “Up to 93 percent of communication is conveyed in tone of voice and body language, while only 7 percent is conveyed in words.”* Who only wants 7 percent of their significant other’s affection? Just remember, the medium should match your message. If your message is “I love you,” your medium should be as thoughtful and as intimate as your words.

This article is not meant to be descriptive of how each person should communicate. Rather this article is meant to be thought provoking. How you communicate matters: “The medium is the message.” As individuals in relationship with other human beings, it is our responsibility to not only be intentional in what we say but also in how we say it.



*Harmon, P. (2013, July). Does texting affect emotional intelligence? Digital communication stands in the way of face-to-face communication and interpersonal relationships. T+D, 70. Retrieved August 24, 2014, from Academic One File: Infotrac (A335734914).

Blake Kooi, Intern

Blake Kooi is a therapist in training working towards becoming a Limited Licensed Professional Counselor at Spring Arbor University in their Masters in Community Counseling Program. He received his Bachelor’s in Family Life Education from Spring Arbor University and his Master’s in Educational Ministries from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In the past he has worked as a youth specialist at Ottawa County Juvenile Detention Center and as a Supports Coordinator/Case Manager for Hope Network.