The medium is as important as the message

Last week I participated in a Twitter chat, an #AVChat hosted by @AVWriter (Linda Seid Frembes) and I was the guest “talker”. It was an interesting experience. I am by no means a digital media expert, but I think that the idea of a Twitter Chat or Tweet Chat or TwitChat is very interesting. The idea of allowing people to connect and share ideas experience and ideas in the virtual world is a good one. Very similar to guild meetings in previous times, it allowed for people in the same trade to share knowledge. It also allowed people to participate how and where they were available with the availability of a replay or transcript. It worked well, however it turned into more question and response then conversations.

I in no way blame the #AVTweeps or Linda. I think it is the medium, Twitter. The idea that one could connect and participate as they preferred to seemed interesting. I am not sure it is appropriate for a moderated talk. Even though we were trying to make the gathering as portable as possible, there were still some vestiges of old school technologies. I was online with five devices with various Twitter clients on them and the best communication tool of the bunch was what I had attached to my head, I was talking on the phone with Linda. Part of this connection approach is that it was a first for both of us to have a moderated chat using Twitter.

What started to happen though was that Linda would tell me the next question and I would prepare my answer so that she could send it out, I could answer it and then discussion would take place. What ended up happening was that she would tweet the question and multiple people would respond.  It would be similar to someone asking a presenter for an image of a tree and members of the audience also presenting images of a tree. It was interesting to see everyone’s response, but I am not sure that it is possible to comprehend all that information and respond all at the same time. I found myself reading on one screen and responding on another. The way I was able to not miss questions that were coming back was that Linda would alert me via phone that something went by I should answer.

The medium of Twitter was such that there was too much information flowing. I am not saying that is a bad thing. As I look back and read the transcript I can comprehend more than I did in “real time”. I liken the TwitChat to trying to hold a class in a trade show booth. People are paying attention, there are lots of conversations going on, ancillary distractions occur, and ultimately some information is missed. The information is not ignored and people are not being disrespectful or malevolent it is just that there is so much going on that things are missed.

The same issue occurs in photography, viewing a timed image presentation is not the same as looking at a static image at your own pace. The root cause of the issue is the fact that intervals might not be one that matches the viewer’s speed. The timing could be too slow so that the observer gets bored, too fast so that the image is not truly viewed, or just the amount of images overwhelms the audience. Obviously each person is going to have their own opinion of what is the proper timing.

Given the option of watching a presentation that self advances versus me controlling it, I will pick the viewer controlled one. If I have the choice of going to a gallery and strolling through artwork at my own speed or watching a presentation of the images where I can’t chose the time I will pick the gallery.
Of course there are applications for all of these mediums. A digital picture frame that advances once a minute of snapshots in an office with a large print of a photograph hanging behind the desk to allow for longer viewing could be the perfect solution. (The differences between an image and a photograph.) Having timed previews on the front page of a website while still allowing visitors to browse content on following pages is the same idea. A TwitChat could be just as effective for some as having a formal online seminar with a moderator and a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation.

It is simple a matter of selecting the right medium for the message. There is no one right answer, you have to pick what works for you as a viewer. As a presenter, think about how you can allow your audience determine their preferred method without ruining your message. It is not an easy process and it is sometimes overlooked but it is important to consider.

If you are wondering why I did not say “slideshow” for presentation, is that to me a slide is an image on a transparent media that is placed in a projector or viewer for display. It is its own medium just like analog is different from digital in audio. I wanted to make sure that the idea was clear.

One thought on “The medium is as important as the message

  1. Rebeca

    Interesting to hear your point of view on the #AVchat – Also, I like your analogy. “there is no one right answer, you have to pick what works for you as a viewer” – also true of the choices in participating in the chat – be it TweetDeck, the Twitter website, etc.


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