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Your Media, Your Message

Published 2/10/2022

In the mid 20th century, Marshall Mcluhan brought philosophy into the spotlight with his claim that the "medium is the message." We discuss the meaningfulness of this, and apply it to our work as engineers and on distributed teams, in today's episode.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
What does it mean that the message that I'm sending to you today is coming in the form of a podcast? What does it do to the message and to the audience of people who decide to listen to podcasts more broadly? In today's episode, we're going to talk a little bit about how the medium of your messages matters. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, you're listening to Developer Tea. My goal on the show is to help driven developers like you find clarity, perspective, and purpose in their careers. Every message that you send from you to another person is carried through a medium. Sometimes that medium is a face-to-face conversation. We have kind of a raw medium of light and sound, sound waves emanating from another person. Sometimes that medium is moderated by some intermediary. For example, you may still have those light waves and sound waves, but traveling through a Zoom call, or perhaps the medium itself is a drastically different representation of the message. Written letters or slack. All of these media are not transparent. In the mid-20th century, Marshall McCleoon drove this point home. He said that the medium is the message. His point, as he details in lectures that you can find online, will try to include those in the show notes. His point was essentially that the effect of the medium outweighs the minor effect of whatever the content of your message is. And he was particularly interested in studying this on a grand scale. The effect of having broad access to, for example, television, broadcast television, that the effect of that was going to be much more pronounced, much more important than whatever the content is that's showing on TV. And McCleoon's words were well before the internet. McCleoon's words were well before the personalization of media and really before video games had a chance to affect our society or culture. But we can hazard a guess that his opinions would only be even more so applied to newer media that we experience. And whether you agree with this philosophy from McCleoon, or if you have a different take, we can at least inspect some of the implications this would have on our messages in our day-to-day lives, specifically within our work context. We'll talk about that right after we talk about today's sponsor. Developer Tea is proudly sponsored by Doppler. The scary days of configuring, managing, and sharing secrets across different teams and clouds are over. Introducing Doppler, the first universal secrets platform that enables Developer To automate the pain away of managing secrets and environment files. Doppler is your team's central source of truth for secrets and app config across all environments and clouds. Whether your secrets are in Docker, AWS, for cell, server lists, or anywhere else, Doppler works where you work. And as your stack evolves, Doppler remains simple. More than 11,000 customers across all company sizes from startups to enterprises use Doppler to keep their secrets and app configuration in sync across devices, environments, and team members. Say goodbye to in files and set up Doppler for your team in less than four minutes. Head over to Doppler.com slash L slash Developer Teathat's Doppler D-O-P-P-L-E-R dot com slash the letter L slash Developer Tea. Thanks again to Doppler for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. We're exploring the idea that Marshall McCluen and many others after him put forth that the importance of the medium often can outweigh the impact of the message. In other words, the societal or cultural importance of a broad adoption of a form of media in the case of McCluen, the listening to of the radio or the watching of television by a large number of people in a given society has a larger impact than any given message that is portrayed through that media. And we can apply this kind of thinking to our workplaces. What kinds of effects, what kinds of implications are there to your entire company, your team, your sub-organization, your department, whatever that group is, their adoption of a given type of medium. I want to be clear about my goal for this episode of your takeaway. Shouldn't be that the tools that you pick are going to determine your culture or that the tools, the media that you use for transferring messages is a painstaking and overly important process, or that even it will overshadow the messages that you're sending. For example, if you're using Slack or if you're using an email for a given communication, for a given message, those are probably not going to have a major difference. But it should be noted that as you adopt tooling, not just tooling, but as you adopt various media that your teams use, that you use with other people that you're working with, that you use with your clients, that there is an effect. A simple example of this was studied this past year, and it was coined Zoom Fatigue. Zoom Fatigue occurs essentially when someone is on Zoom call for a long enough period of time, and it's specifically as worse if your camera is on. This fatigue occurs whether the meeting went well or not. So some mechanism that is completely ignorant of the content of that meeting is causing fatigue. Now it's not to say that the content wouldn't increase or decrease that sense of fatigue, but there is something that's happening as a result of the medium itself. If for example you were to use Zoom without seeing your own face, this had a moderating effect to that fatigue. It may have little to no effect the content of the message. The goal of this episode is also not to necessarily rank which types of media are better than others because we probably couldn't do that. We don't have enough information to do that. It's not to implore you to use one kind of medium over another. Instead, my hope is that you will begin to be thoughtful about the media that you're using. Consider whether a given medium is causing an effect that is deleterious to your team. It's causing a negative effect, or on the flip side, whether a given medium might be causing a positive effect for your team, and you might want to double down on using that. Ultimately, remaining ignorant of the fact that the medium itself has an effect on our messaging or has an effect on our culture, on how we communicate with one another. If we remain ignorant of that fact, then we'll make uninformed decisions and miss out on opportunities to take advantage of the media that we use. Thanks so much for listening to this episode. This slightly more philosophical episode, and media theory episode of Developer Tea. This show talks about this kind of stuff. Sometimes, we need to open up the conversation a little bit to more theoretical discussions that have very practical implications into how you're doing work on a day-to-day basis. I hope that the practical takeaways here are clear that your media actually does matter. Your choice of tools, your choice of platforms, your choice of the way that you're communicating, the kinds of messages, and the platforms that those types of messages are on, all of that matters. It has an effect on you and the people you work with. Thanks so much for listening to this episode. Thank you again to today's sponsor, Doppler. If you want to fix your environment secret woes, all of those difficult to solve problems of sharing secrets in the right environments to the right people, Doppler has you covered. Head over to Doppler.com. That's D-O-P-P-L-E-R.com slash L, the letter L slash Developer Tea. Thanks so much for listening to this episode. If you enjoyed this discussion, then you'll probably enjoy listening to more of the show. So go ahead and subscribe. But also the discussions that we have over in the Developer Tea Discord. You can join that for free by heading to developertea.com slash Discord. Thanks so much for listening. Until next time, enjoy your tea.