Thoughts on Communication

oxen-editedPatty asked on LinkedIn about our thoughts on communication. Here were my thoughts expanded below.

Communication is not just dialog or debate. A good example where communication is something else would be quorum sensing–a system of stimulus and response that depends on population density. For instance, when a choir is assembled, they are ready to sing. The same people when distributed elsewhere no longer constitute a choir and don’t sing together. (Yes, I’m simplifying the concept.)

Charisma is another example. Depending on other characteristics a person has developed, charisma often makes good leaders, good actors, sales representatives and con artists.

Verbal communication is only a fraction of what we think of as communication. Facial and body expressions convey meaning that words cannot. So does body scent. Many of us are entirely unaware of the visual and olfactory cues we express to others in the same room.

All of that extra information is missing in a forum. All we have to go on is a string of characters. Now add, on top of that, differences in experience with the language of preference, differences in religious background, education, temper, and mental flexibility. It’s a wonder we communicate at all.

Just months before my grandfather died, he looked at me and my brother in a moment of clarity and said “The pair of you are just like ‘Buck and Bright'”. I thought these were characters from a Canadian radio show or early television commercial. The reference was entirely lost on me, my brother, my parents and others in the room. I had no idea who “Buck and Bright” were. Were they like the Hardee Boys, or were they more like the Dukes of Hazzard?

We often make reference to specific events, people, things or concepts that are lost on a wider audience that don’t have the same shared experiences. Part of the message gets through – for instance the part about “Buck and Bright” having relevance to my grandfather – but the exact meaning was lost.

It is only this very day that I found out the likely meaning of my grandfather’s reference to Buck and Bright, and rest assured, it’s not for lack of trying. He was old enough for this reference to be the likely one, and actually worked in a lumber camp as a boy where and when oxen were still used. Buck and Bright were common names given to oxen before and during the industrial revolution. My grandfather’s comparison was to that of two oxen, as in “strong as an ox.” My grandfather did not live in Wisconsin, where the article was written, but rather in Quebec, Canada. It’s kind of a thrill and a little humbling to finally understand an off-hand characterization made so many years ago.

Communication on a forum lies between what is lost in translation and what is conveyed.

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