Every day we choose mediums*.

Should we call, text, or send an email? Is it this right time for a tap back on a message, or typing ‘ok’? Should this next meeting be a video or a phone call? Mediums consist of artifacts (phone, computer, piece of software), language (letter typed, a recording of your voice) and systems (your class’ chat, a building bulletin board, or a schoolyard.) 

As we move around and navigate all of these decisions, we will deploy different parts of our psyche, different levels of feeling and thinking.

Don Norman’s definitions of visceral, behavioral and reflective could be valuable. Norman’s commentary is based on the dichotomy of a designer and consumer, I am extending to both the design, and consumption of our habits. Akin to the negotiation between the self and the identity heuristic.

Three levels of processing: Visceral, Behavioral, and Reflective. 

In this model, there are three levels of receiving sensory information. The visceral is “the automatic, prewired layer,” the behavioral is the executive, decision centric part, “that control everyday behavior,” and the reflective is the one that can start considering future state and engage in contemplative activity.


In Norman’s model, the reflective does not engage with the world but reflects on decisions. It grades and learns, writes plans for new actions, and keeps us on course to achieving our goals. 


“This is the home of reflection, of conscious thought, of the learning of new concepts and generalizations about the world.”

— Norman, Donald A.. Emotional Design


Because “the behavioral level is not conscious,” it is easy to overlay this on Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow model, with only the slightest dissonance. The behavioral level is thinking fast, like driving a car–a shared example by Kahneman and Norman–and the reflective level is the planning room, where we deliberate, examine how we did in the past, and what we should do in the future. 

Norman’s Visceral moment is even more ephemeral than the Thinking Fast one. It is not thinking, it stays on the outer layers of input and output, reactionary mode of the lizard brain.

Modern-day technologies use a lot of this thinking in designing things that stick, are addictive, and retain engagement.

If we are looking to build up our creativity, and take ownership of our agency, we need models to guide our reflections. Being able to switch between the visceral, behavioral and reflective is the first step for creative, and fulfilled life. We should take stock of our decisions, and see how we show up in the world based on our digital habits.

Thank you for reading.

* Medium is defined as the communication of language, thorough an artifact, within a system

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