P030: The Medium Is Not The Message

Another week, another article about email newsletters – except this time, it’s highlighting a new feature in Gmail that makes it easier to unsubscribe. We’ve talked before about how the rise of messaging has cleared the way for email’s resurgence but it seems like the scales have tipped too far for some.

And it should come as no surprise that as we continue to refine a method of communication, the demand for quality increases. Newsletters are the method of the moment, but it doesn’t matter how appropriate the communication channel is if the message isn’t equally strong.

The Medium Is Not The Message

If the value of a piece of real estate is tied to its location, the value of a piece of digital communication is tied to its accessibility. The rise of Responsive Web Design has given web practitioners the tools and a common vocabulary to deliver a message across an ever-increasing number of content consumption contexts. But while the web design community drools over the techniques at play in the latest responsive redesign, few stop to think about the content in the fancy new design.

The same can be said about the last decade’s web trend: Search Engine Optimization. All those SEO gurus figured out that there was value to be skimmed out, pennies at a time, from ad-saturated content farms if you combine the shallowest possible writing with the most number of keywords. Do any of these sites actually solve the problems of the person who is Googling for more information on how to screw in a light bulb? No, but someone is willing to pay for their attention.

Everything Old is Old Again

An over-reliance on the method of content delivery leads to an infectious cynicism that shortcuts critical thinking and spreads mediocre ideas. Newsletters aren’t great because they are delivered to your inbox. They can only be great if the content is great. Trendy delivery methods don’t give you a pass once enough people figure out how to communicate in a given medium. That’s the (daunting, crippling, anxiety-filled) challenge that I face every time I sit down at a keyboard, and it’s the same challenge faced from the very first cave painter.

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron