Thursday, October 15, 2009

TV Cables and Communications Media

Reading Kneale Mann's piece on multi-media communication reminds me of hooking up a new television recently. There was the TV with all of its HDMI, component, S-video, RCA and USB connection ports. Then there were the various devices we wanted to be able to connect and a collection of various types of cables for each connection type. I found the process of hooking everything up to closely mirror my experience with differing modes of communication.

Not that I'm likely to pursue a doctorate anytime soon, but probably 25 years ago I decided that if I ever did, I would want to do my thesis on how mode of communication affects content and the quality or effectiveness of communicating and how content and/or communication intent does (or should) affect the mode chosen. My fascination with this hasn't wavered, so it's probably no surprise that trying to choose the right cables for the right devices would make me think of the choices we make in communication every day.

I'm a huge fan of Twitter these days, but certainly not for everything. This bit of musing is a good example of a thought I can't fully express in 140 characters or less. Others are not so quick to see the value or, if on the verge of being convinced, are certain it's only likely to create more work for themselves.

"I can't even keep up with my Inbox - I spend two hours a day trying to keep email under control!" whined another attendee of the Portland Lane Powell social media seminar for businesses that I sat in on earlier this summer. I say whined because this particular gentleman didn't seem particularly interested in arriving at a solution, but others certainly share his basic sentiment. My own feeling is that such people are looking at the problem wrong, and in so doing, are making it seem much bigger than it really is.

My basic assertion is that if we collectively choose the most appropriate mode of communication for the situation at hand and the specific players involved then we effectively reduce, rather than continue to increase the effort expended for communication purposes as more options come along. And this is where the TV cables seem relevant to me.

Although there are limits to how many of which kind of connections are possible, the television is happily agnostic - it is capable of receiving just about any type of input currently used today. On the other hand, the older satellite receiver I'd chosen to connect doesn't have so many choices, the DVD player has a different set of options and the Roku box handles just about every type of output imaginable. Add to the mix the older stereo with RCA as the only audio input option, and it made for an interesting puzzle.

Although there are multiple HDMI ports on the TV, I only had one HDMI cable and only one HDMI-capable device, so that choice was easy. From there, it wasn't tough to decide which device of those capable of using the component cable should get it and how best to apportion out the remaining S-video and RCA cables. Always though, it was a question of matching up device capabilities, ports, and availability of cable.

Basically we have to do the same thing with communication methods. Personally, I'm best with written thoughts. I can read them quickly when I'm the receiver and I can think about what I'm saying before I send it out. But email and Twitter aren't always available. And written communication may not be a preference for the person on the other end. Even when writing might be a functional option, it may not be the optimal mode of communication for the content itself. Just as most people still consider it gauche to break up via voicemail, I wouldn't care to learn of a close friend's death via Twitter when a phone call or even a more personal email might be possible.

Ideally, choosing the best communication medium for the job at hand increases the effectiveness of the communication while it reduces effort. If it feels like more work, someone is probably making less-than-optimal choices - or perhaps the best communication method for your particular need hasn't been invented yet.

As for me, I'm rather like the television - happily multi-modal for the most part even though I do have personal preferences. What are your preferences? And how do you apportion out your communication capabilities? It's worth thinking about. Once I'd paid attention to all of the connection capabilities with the television, I realized that it might be useful to track down one more HDMI cable. Taking careful inventory of your communication needs could yield similar insights. It all comes down to sorting out what's optimum for the players, the situation, and the job at hand.

What's the best way to share what you have to say?