Medium, Media

Medium refer to the materials and tools Rhetors use to compose, archive, and convey messages. For 21st Century Writers, messages often have to be remediated in multiple media.

Medium is

  • a method of communication
  • a communication channel
  • the tools and materials used to communicate
  • the processes writers and speakers engage in to transmit, receive and archive messages

The plural for Medium is Media.

Synonyms: communication channel, materials, writing tools, writing spaces


Medium (or Media) is a broad term that includes the materials and tools that writers and speakers use to compose, archive, and convey messages, including

  • symbol systems
    • e.g., alphabetical text, mathematical symbols, musical symbols, computer code
  • a pen, pencil, or stylus
  • a printed page, a computer screen, a canvas for painting
  • hard drives, computer servers
  • ink, charcoal, crayon, pixels
  • newspaper, TV, Radio.

Medium is a fairly slippery concept to grasp for several reasons.

First, writers and speakers may use multiple media to communicate: For instance, a pharmaceutical company might release the results of testing in a blog post, tweet, podcast, press release, Youtube video, TV commercial, documentary.

Second, Media have affordances. Particular media make particular acts of composing more or less difficult to accomplish. Consider, e.g., how

  • Wikis simplify processes for collaboration among group of people who don’t know one another. They expedite revision by tracking all changes and facilitating discussion among authors and editors.
  • Facebook, Twitter or Snapshot can make it easy for people to engage in conversations. These tools encourage spontaneous thinking and decision making.
  • Tools like Skype or Google Hangout make it easy to problem solve on a collaborative project.
  • TV and movies strongly appeals to pathos.

Third, along with affordances, Media have unique constraints. For instance,

  • A tweet limits a rhetor to a limited number of characters.
  • A blog post encourages concise texts with hyperlinks to other bloggers, embedded videos, animations, photos, and hyperlinks.

Fourth, Media are constantly evolving. New technologies are constantly emerging that have unique affordances and constraints. New technologies like the pencil, printing press, internet alter composing, genre, and style. How we compose now is quite different from how our parents or grandparents composed.

“Students can no longer prepare bark to calculate problems. They depend instead on expensive slates. What will they do when slate is dropped and breaks?” – 1703 (Teachers’ Conference)

“Students depend on paper too much. They no longer know how to write on a slate without getting dust all over themselves. What will happen when they run out of paper?” – 1815 (Principal’s Association Meeting)

“The teacher knows almost as little how to use it as his pupil.” Chalkboard (1840)

“Students depend too much on ink. They no longer know how to use a knife to sharpen a pencil.” (1907, National Association of Teachers)

“[It] is going to make school so attractive that a big army with swords and guns couldn’t keep boys and girls out of it.”  Movies (1911)

“Whatever the benefits of newer electronic media, they provide no measurable substitute for the intellectual and personal development initiated and sustained by frequent reading” –  2007 (Dana Gioia, Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts)

Fifth, the Medium can be the message, as Marshall Mcluhan so aptly pointed out. The text the writer produces, the message, is shaped by the medium the speaker or writer uses to compose the message. The affordances and constraints of a particular medium have a profound effect on how the message is authored or perceived.

Hence, text, information, topic, message, thesis/research question are shaped by Medium.

The concepts of Media and Medium are evolving thanks to the Internet and new technologies.

In contemporary discourse, some people use Media and Medium interchangeably. Others argue that Media should be treated as the plural form of Medium. Thus, CNN is a medium, but CNN and Fox are Media.

Technically, Media is a collective noun like team or jury. Thus it can be treated as either singular or plural depending on the meaning you wish go convey.

Social Media refers to online tools and communication ecosystems that facilitate social sharing and dialog (e.g., Instagram, Wikipedia, Twitter, & You Tube, Facebook.]