Warping the Message

Why the technology you use to communicate is as important as what you say.

For those who think technology is merely a tool: you’re being fooled.

“The medium is the message,” Marshall McLuhan said.

Every time you read a newspaper, attend a church service or go to a business meeting, you are not only absorbing a message; you are absorbing the medium.

In other words: How you say something is as important as what you say. How you receive a message is as important as the message itself.

If you are not aware of this, you are in big, big trouble. We all are.

The path we’re on

Western society is approaching an interesting crossroads. We have more information, more data and more technology than ever before. And we are still very stupid.

We have billions of gigabytes of valuable content; yet, we have little experience or wisdom in how to wield such resources.

We’re bound to screw something up. In fact, we already have.

We may soon find ourselves in a post-apocalyptic, Terminator-esque reality in which the tools we built to use are, in fact, using us. And if you think I’m being over-dramatic, suspend judgment for a moment and be honest: These powerful communication tools may not have super-intelligent cyber-brains hell-bent on destroying the world (yet), but can we honestly say that they are neutral, that they will not change how we live our lives, how we value relationships? Haven’t they already?

How much time do you spend using the Internet? How about checking your phone or email? It’s more than you think.

Addicted to technology?

Do an experiment and hide your phone for the weekend. Shut your laptop down. Did you miss it? Did you start to get an “itch,” like an addict going into withdrawal?

I’ve been amazed at how dependent I am on these soulless machines. Since I use technology all-day-every-day, I don’t even notice it. But whenever I am away from my computer or iPhone for several hours, I start to panic. I worry and wonder: What did I miss?

The reason I rely so heavily on these tools? Communication. I want to connect to other people—for the sake of work and building personal relationships. Ironically, I’ve often felt enslaved to the very tools I thought I was mastering.

How do I know this?

Because I find it hard to read a book. After a few pages, I’m ready to switch to something else. The instant access of the Internet and television has programmed me to hop from one media source to the next without ever paying full attention.

Because I am a terrible listener. If I’m having a conversation with someone for more than a few minutes, I find my eyes and mind wandering. I get bored. I want to move on to the next task, the next conversation. Again, I’m thinking: What am I missing?

Because I am more concerned about people online than offline. When my wife and I have people over for dinner, I inevitably find myself wanting to check email or Twitter. While I love forming relationships on the web, I’ve found that an unfortunate byproduct is that it has led me to push away people in my own neighborhood.

I am not proud of any of this. And the fact that this is so widespread in our culture is embarrassing.

What’s really at stake

The communication advancements of the past hundred years—not just the Internet; but the telephone, radio and camera (both still and video)—have drastically changed the way communities are shaped and how people interact.

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While I’m not ready to quit the Internet or stop using my cell phone, I am sure of one thing: I have got to get a grip on these tools. Otherwise, they will rule my life—rule our lives—in subtle, inconspicuous ways, all the while undermining the purposes for which I’m using them: to build relationships.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll reiterate for the sake of emphasis: I want to make a difference. In the world, yes. But also in my family and hometown. Maybe you do, too.

If so, allow me to suggest a challenge to the both of us: If the tools we’re using are undermining the goal itself, let’s consider changing tools. Or at the very least, be more intentional about how we use such tools.

We can’t for one second believe that the medium doesn’t matter, that we should carelessly employ any technology available for the sake of broadcasting a message. A lot is at stake here—even the integrity of the Message we so earnestly believe in.

What do you think? Is the medium neutral, or does it affect the message? How is technology changing the way we interact, relationally?

Jeff Goins is a writer and works for Adventures in Missions. This article was reprinted from his blog with permission. Get his free e-book, The Writer's Manifesto.  



Guest commented…

The medium is most definitely not neutral. It is a man made creation with the goal of increasing our ability to communicate with each other.However, "communication"can happen in more than one way and we have allowed ourselves to become confused into thinking that meaningful and deep relationships can beformed by employing the use of devices apart from face toface contact. Can a man made machine replace the connection that can be made by merely looking into your lovers eyes? Can it replace the touch of a mother's caress and it's effects on her child's emotional and physical development? Can a device be created that can replace your prayers and connection with your creator? I think it is possible to create something that can fool us into thinking that it can do all these things.

Technology has opened up many avenues for increasing our ability to relay messages to each other but like everything else it has it's positives and negatives. What techonology communicates is still under the control of the creator of the story, the picture, the text message, etc.but we should be aware that OUR way of thinking and looking at the world is constantly changing based on how data is absorbed into our our brains through all the senses engaged to relay that message by the messenger. If we think technology is neutral, we are deceiving ourselves into thinking that it can have no effect on us. If my husband thinks that sending me a textmessage saying"I love you" replaces having to actually say itto me in my face then he is in big trouble.

Can God use technology to reach us? Absolutely. Can the enemy use technology to reach us? Absolutely.

Thanks Jeff for challenging us to be more intentional about the way we use technology and increasing our awareness of how we are being influenced by it.


JP commented…

I have enjoyed watching the progression of the discussion following this article, but I still believe these mediums remain neutral. The last comment says it well: "Can God use technology to reach us? Absolutely. Can the enemy use technology to reach us? Absolutely." I completely agree with this statement. Can God use a negative thing to teach us something? I know the immediate response is, "Of course. He's God." But would He? Does doing so align with His character as a loving father? Would a father help his child learn that fire burns by putting a match to his or her child's hand and saying, "Does this hurt. Yep, don't play with fire." That is not the God I know, nor do I believe this is the God of the Scripture.

Also, here is another perspective on if mediums were in case not neutral. That would mean some are positive or negative, right? So if there was a medium that was negative, would not any continued use of it be sin? If we perceive Facebook as negative, then to continue to even have a Facebook account would be sin. That seems pretty far, right? But do we want to be pure? Are we willing to fight for purity? Are we willing to pay the cost for purity? Losing Facebook is far less than the price of Christ dying on the cross!

However, Christ came to give us freedom, not to bind us to religious laws! He has made us pure and free already, so why should we not enjoy these mediums (not to be confused with the messages nor with overindulgence). If you ever received any kind of positive feeling, reaction, or emotion from using any kind of media medium, then you can immediately rule out the fact that it is negative. I am not saying some mediums are not more effective at communicating certain messages, and I definitely agree with the fact that media cannot replace human interaction. But I refuse to say mediums can be negative when I have received so many positive things from various sources of media. Things and objects are not the decision-makers, people are.

For this reason, we must choose Christ, and when we are using our media devices, ask Him, "Am I using this too much?" Ask Him, "How can I be using this to further your kingdom?" I promise that in choosing Christ, we will find much more satisfaction in both our time on and away from our media devices.

It is not my goal to offend anyone here, nor just to debate to debate. However, the last thing I want is for people to condemn themselves for their use of media. God does not condemn you, nor do I, and neither should you condemn yourself. It is not of God. What I desire most of all is for people to look to Christ, know His love for them, and be so enraptured with how much He loves them they cannot help but love Him back!


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When team management has recently discussed
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Anonymous commented…

Mediums may be morally neutral, but they are not totally neutral. Some mediums are far more effective for communicating a certain message than others. For example, the medium of a shrill voice would be a bad choice to communicate a comforting message, because it would embed confusion into the message.

The non-neutrality of mediums is one reason why a billboard would make a bad choice to communicate a long, complicated message. It is also the reason that many discussions in online forums take on a predictable set of patterns, why certain discussion forum formats are more popular than others, and why google ad words works so tremendously well.

Any medium you use to communicate a message, whether it b thu shrt frm txt msg, discussion forum, a screen (video), print, telephone, or face-to-face, will color your message by the virtues of the medium itself.

From the perspective of the one receiving/interpreting information, there is no such thing as an unadulterated message. We have to interpret the raw meaning of something through the vehicle with which the information is passed, so our assumptions about the medium itself plays a huge role in our ability (or inability) to interpret the information, or message, being passed through it.


AnonGuest commented…

A few of my friends and I have decided to fast from social networking, texting, television, or whatever technology we find ourselves way too dependent or addicted to. Anytime we feel tempted to access any of it, we pray and read God's word. There are four of us currently, and we are handwriting letters to each other each week, for accountability basically. We share a bible verse that totally relates to our recent week. This is the second week. I have been reading articles here on Relevant (as it is relevant lol) and looking at some short daily devotions online. I have been controlling the way I've been using the internet. I have tried to control myself from mindlessly looking at stuff, and jumping from page to page. I think this could be why some of us are so forgetful and impatient. There is so much access at our fingertips- at lightening speed. Anyways, it feels GREAT to be fasting from it all. I will admit, I do feel kind of left out and awkward sometimes when someone says they'll text me or tell me to go see something on Facebook, but it's worth it.

This was inspired by a video we saw in church a few Sundays ago:

"I had relationships with people, not profile pages"

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