Choosing the Right Medium

Mar 14, 2016
Joe Buhlig
~4 mins

You’re reading them right now. And the medium that they arrive in will change their weight. Words. Words in email have less impact than a handwritten letter. And a conversation over coffee has more sway than a phone call.

We use a lot of mediums to share words with each other. We can send written words over iMessage or paper; we can send audible words over Facetime or in person. Each method has its own connotations and perceptions. Add in differing cultures, generational differences, and regional expectations and we now have a mess on our hands.

But if we boil down the options, we see many similarities. Sending short, typed messages can be done through Twitter, Snapchat, iMessage, or email. Long form text is best sent through a blog post, email, or a handwritten letter. Email can do both, and iMessage can also do audio. Here’s a breakdown of these types of words:

Length Type Mechanism Example
Short Digital Visual Twitter, Snapchat, iMessage
Long Digital Visual Email, Blog Post
Short Analog Visual Thank You cards, Love notes
Long Analog Visual Letters, journaling
Short Digital Audible iMessage, voice notes
Long Digital Audible Podcasts, talk radio
Short Digital A/V FaceTime, Snapchat
Long Digital A/V FaceTime, podcasts
Short Analog A/V Restaurant ordering
Long Analog A/V Meeting a friend for coffee

Deciding which medium to use can be difficult. Some, like Twitter or Snapchat, are more comfortable because they don’t require vulnerability from me. Others, like a conversation over dinner, are a risk because I may say the wrong thing. And once it leaves my mouth it cannot be erased or crumpled up and thrown away. But there are a number of factors to consider when making the decision, and comfort level isn’t really up for consideration. As long as I consider the medium that is most appropriate regardless of my own preferences, the message will be better conveyed with less chance of misunderstanding.

Publicity

Is it appropriate for the whole world to know about it? If yes, then you can use social media or a blog post. Or maybe you hold a press conference to broadcast it. But if it needs to be a private conversation or it’s a sensitive topic, please keep it off of social media and send it directly to the person who needs to hear it. I hope that goes without saying.

Length

If you want to share a thesis regarding your philosophical views on politics, 140 characters on Twitter probably isn’t the best choice. iMessage is great if you just need a quick response about a meeting time. The point here is to make sure the medium you choose has the ability to clearly state your point. You’re trying to convey your thoughts. Make sure you’re able to do so with the mode you choose. And don’t shortchange it just because it’s easier on you. Be clear.

Sensitivity

I’m never on Facebook. I understand why people use it, but I have a hard time seeing all the inappropriate posts that should have been a phone call or a get-together between friends and family. Facebook can quickly became a way of posting gut reactions to the thoughts of others. I don’t need that kind of trash in my life.

If the words you need to share are sensitive, whether due to political tensions, family problems, misunderstandings, or strategic business matters, consider your medium carefully. Anything typed out and sent digitally has a higher probability of being misunderstood than sitting in front of the other person. The higher the sensitivity, the less margin of error allowed in interpretation.

Relationship

How close are you to the other person? The more you know each other, the less you need to say to convey your thoughts. My best friend and I do our best to meet for coffee every Friday. In order to confirm that meeting, we just send a coffee emoji to one another. If I did the same to someone who just started following me on Twitter, they would be dumbfounded. “I know he likes coffee, but what the…?”

Availability

I don’t think any of us would argue that in-person conversations are the most effective, but sometimes that’s simply not an option. You have to stick with the mediums available to you.

Value

This is likely the most overlooked variable. How much value do you want these words to carry? I can text “I love you” to my wife, but if I write those same words at the end of a love note written on special paper with a fountain pen, they carry more impact. If I say those same words when we end a phone call they have less worth than at the end of a dinner date. There’s nothing you can do to change the value of the medium. It’s implicit in the method itself.

New methods of communication are always being created and trends have us trying new ways to connect at every turn. It’s not always easy to choose the medium for your words, but the more time I spend writing and sharing words, the more cognizant I am of the value they carry in each medium.