High-Tech Delivery Can Overshadow Message

By Mike Maddaloni on Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 04:00 AM with 1 comments

Marshall McLuhan is famous for the quote, “the medium is the message.” My short definition of the meaning of this quote is that it isn’t necessarily what is being said, but how it is said. I thought of McLuhan on a recent ride on Chicago’s Red Line subway, where I saw the following notice.

photo of CTA HDTV kiosk in Chicago

The notice reads of upcoming route cuts on Chicago’s CTA system. What it doesn’t say is why, and not saying it is not at issue as it has been widely reported in the media and blogs around the Windy City of the CTA’s budget “issues” and the need to cut service to balance its budget.

As I read this notice, the words were not as important as what I was looking at. The notice is displayed on an HDTV encased in a protective kiosk to ideally prevent it from damage and vandalism. The cost of such a display unit was adding up in my head along with other budget numbers I have read in the previously-mentioned stories. In the end I did not see a notice of services changes, rather an expensive display device.

The irony in this thinking is it came from me, a career high-tech professional and Web consultant. I have discussed such display units with clients. However this is not the only example of using technology that in the end has bothered me. A few weeks back I received an onslaught of phone calls for the eventual winner of the Massachusetts U.S. Senate race, Scott Brown, on my Chicago 312 area-coded business line! Somehow my number was derived from some computer-processed algorithm which followed me, who used to live in the Bay State, to the Land of Lincoln. Months prior to this I received letters form now-defunct GM brand Saturn to my Chicago home thanking me for my loyalty to them. I bought a Saturn in 2003 and dumped it in 2000 (with emphasis on the word "dumped"), yet they were still able to find me.

All in all, no message will resonate with everyone it is presented to. But as we progress into more tech-driven message delivery, we should be cognizant of the sincerity of this message, which can be compromised using modern, inexpensive means. Surely a hand-written note from the CTA, Scott Brown or Saturn would have been perceived by me to be the same as the automated message. Before pressing the send button or making that buying decision, think about if you have to justify the medium as well as the message.

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