Twitter, The Medium and the Message


The perfect use for most tweets?

Last week I noted the launch of PSFK’s new print publication. This week, two other ‘digital to analog’ items caught my eye. First up is sh*tter. A service that will put your Twitter feed on a roll of toilet paper. HuffPo has the story. This is a great example of McLuhan’s ‘the medium is the message.”  Your tweets in book form, or on a quilt, even on Kleenex, carry a completely different message than on toilet paper. Take it a step further, and your or my tweets on toilet paper is different than say, @shitmydadsays on toilet paper. That would have a poetic quality to it. 

I think this is important to think about. How does the medium affect the message is more relevant than ever as social media, in all its forms, pushes more and more messages at us. Even within social media itself, does sending a message via Facebook give it different meaning than sending via Twitter or Google+? Does sending a tweet via your laptop mean something different than if you are sending it from your mobile phone?

Somewhat more interesting is Type Breaker, from Len Kendall. Len’s planning on, “us[ing]my Remington Model S fully restored typewriter to punch out a short humorous letter to you. It will be based on your twitter feed and will be customized to you based on your thoughts and items shared. Then I’ll mail you the letter…in the mail. You remember the mail don’t you?” 

An interesting idea and one I wanted to know more about, so I got in touch with Len to ask him a couple of questions:

Rick Liebling: McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message [Foreshadow alert].” So stripping away the content for a minute, how does the medium of a letter, book, magazine, etc. compare, or surpass, the digital medium?

Len Kendall: It’s all about focusing the content consumption experience. A connected device is one that constantly taunts the user with something else. Something that they’re missing that they could be digesting right now. As much as technology can make our ageless stories more visually stunning, deeper in content, or social, there’s always the reminder that the same benefits are waiting for us in the next piece of content. I don’t want to argue that tangible channels prevent us entirely from distractions, (after-all we all have our smartphones next to us at all times) but they do at least remove some of the magnets that divert us so easily in the digital space.

RL: This project requires you to use a typewriter. How does the “equipment” (typewriter v. keyboard) effect the medium AND the message?

LK: Mediums evolve based on society’s needs as well as the opportunities (utilities) that technology reveal. Anachronistic mediums generally don’t captivate our time anymore because of the time it takes to create or consume content within those venues. Where they’re seeing the greatest resurgence today is when they’re used in tandem with digital, or in ways that differ from the original intended design. With Typebreaker, I’m using a typerwriter to slow the frenetic pace of interaction on twitter. People tweet, other people respond within a few minutes, and the conversation is quickly forgotten on both sides. By typing a “long-form” response to my subscriber’s twitter feeds, I’m forcing myself to have a deeper experience with their status updates and spend more time going into archives of their thoughts. By typing a letter on a typewriter, on paper, and then mailing it, I’m taking unusual actions that I hope encourages, a least for a few instances, my subscribers to actually read my comments and reflect back on their own thoughts from the past that yielded my responses.

I’ve signed up for Type Breaker (you can here for just $5 a month) in lieu of a Kickstarter project this week. Check out the previous Kickstarter projects we’ve already supported this year.

Len’s project also reminded me of the recent Twitter by Post project from Giles Turnbull. In both cases the ephemeral nature of Twitter is being subverted and given a weight one can only get from a physical output. It will be interesting to see if these projects portend a larger trend towards choosing mediums that put a greater value on permanence.

If these sorts of questions intrigue you and you are in NYC, DC or Boston, you should check out AETHER, hosted by Orangutan Swing. On April 12th I’ll be the moderator the NYC edition, which is described as a roundtable on the conduit that conveys ideas between people. In other words, how does the format, the channel, even the tools of content creation effect the ways in which we receive and perceive that content.  All very McLuhan-esque. The event will feature Ben Popken, Michael Neff, Andrew Marshall, Dan Blank and Scott McDowell, all of whom you can learn about here. AETHER, which is free, will be held in Bryant Park. I hope you’ll come check it out, should be thought-provoking and somewhat different from the usual industry events. Register for tickets here.