Reflecting on what i would say to a group i have never met, who may or may not read my every word, i scrolled through the near endless feed of topics that are at the forefront of my mind. What should i say, how, is this the right time?
So. I figured the most appropriate topic would be communication. In this digital world, your words can be infinitely powerful, they can outlive you for generations, through translation and repetition, reblogs and retweets, your digital words may enter minds forever separated from your language. I hope you enjoy and find truth in these words and use them to guide you as you communicate.
Communication: the transmission of information
I see communication as having certain essential characteristics. I will discuss each one in turn, with examples where appropriate of good and bad communication. I will focus on communication within the human experience, but often referring to nature and scientific work.
These are my core elements of communication: the origin, the message, the medium, the environment, the audience.
The Origin: This person, organism or group creates the message and initiates the transfer.
To do this, they must first have some information they want or need to transfer. A plant may have nectar or pollen ready for pick up. a female dog may be ovulating and ready for insemination. You may have an idea on how to learn or teach. This information is influenced by you, your experience, the way you perceive that information, how you are able to send and receive messages, etc.
So before you have even sent your message, you have limited and restricted it to a world of possibility based on your limitations as the origin of the message. The plant cannot buzz for the bee. Dogs do not read or write very well, so that would be inappropriate. Similarly, if you are reading this in English, and that is your only language, it may be difficult for you to initiate communication with someone in Spanish, and vice versa. You may have been influenced by prejudices in forming your information. But you have a message now and want to communicate it no matter how unimportant it may be to the rest of the world.
The Message: You create your message with the intent of getting the most accurate meaning to your intended audience. The message itself is also coded, created using elements that need to be decoded and interpreted. The origin is also a part of that message when known, other elements of the message also become important.
The message is what you want your audience to know. The flower says this is a place to visit. The dog’s message is “this is an appropriate time to mate with me”. Your teaching and learning message is probably a bit more complicated, but you get my drift.
This all seems pretty simple, but when the encoding and packaging of the message happens, we start to lose control.
The Medium: is that package we put our message in to carry it to our recipient. It can often affect the message in subtle or significant ways.
Appearance, volume and language are particularly interesting to me.
Appearance I think of as attractiveness/palatability. The aroma of some flowers smells of dead animals while some are sweet (to me), some I cannot smell but that does not mean the aroma is not there. This all depends on the chemical signals used to carry the message. Though a dog in heat may be very attractive to male dogs, perhaps you don’t particularly enjoy the scent of canine ovulation, perhaps you never even notice it, similar to the chemical signals in the flower. Perhaps your audience does not find a discourse on etymology, pedagogy or science interesting, perhaps they drool at the mouth and wait anxiously for your next word. We also have the ability to combine multiple senses to improve the attractiveness. A love letter in a scented envelope, a racist message carved into a painting, the way you feel about your 7th grade homeroom teacher in a flipbook cartoon all add multiple sensory elements to the palatability of your message.
Volume is a different beast altogether. Perhaps your message is not palatable at all. But if the volume is loud enough, no one can hear anything else. Perhaps, a whisper is all you need because you only want a certain group to hear. Have you noticed teeny tiny flowers have teeny tiny little bugs in them? Have you noticed squirrels and hawk prey items tend not to stand in the middle of an open field screaming?
You are in a dark room. Which do you prefer?
A siren sounds and a voice on a loud speaker tells you to follow the lights to the nearest exit; OR a disembodied raspy voice quietly whispers “Get Out”; OR the usher states that the exit is down the hall on the left; OR a green sign in the far corner of the room is backlit with the word “EXIT”. Volume makes a difference.
Finally, every message has a language. Not just English Spanish, French. Some of those unscented flowers, they may deliver their message through visual messages, a completely different “Language”. Cats, dogs, birds, dolphins all have ideal times to mate to produce offspring, but they do not respond to each other’s cues in the same way different chemical and behavioral cues and even the animal’s shape add to whether or not this is an appropriate individual to mate with. And that awesome lesson on teaching and learning you started with… will you write it, in English? Spanish? Will you write with slang and Ebonics, or formal terminology only you and your colleagues understand?
So now we have a message in a medium. We put that message out into the environment.
The environment has filters, walls, tints, background noise, and amplifiers. All of these affect our message and its delivery. Let’s restrict this part to human communication.
Have you ever heard the entire “I have a dream speech by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? If not, follow the link. That message has been filtered. Parts of it got through to you throughout your life, but not the entire thing. Maybe those were the important bits, but you don’t know.
Do you remember watching the Ellen Degeneres show after she came out on tv? Do you remember hearing Onyx’s first album on the Radio with all the cussing? No. Walls blocked entire messages.
Remember that guy with the little mustache who said “We have struggled, but we are champions and we are winning toward our dream”? That was Hitler, tinting his message of world domination and white supremacy with the most beautiful colors and vivid imagery of a powerful nation. Now his messages are painted with a gruesome, dark hue.
Then we go out and spread the beauty of our religion we paint it with the beauty of salvation.
As we watch the new mass shootings or violent attacks here and around the world, these messages are also amplified via your news channel, facebook feed etc. The image of the same person is publicized as the shooter, killer, stabber, bomber. If that person does not look like you, or their name does not sound like people in your community, it amplifies a negative message. One person, did one thing. That one thing is repeated a million times. A three year old (Markera’s daughter) showed me a bird in the underbrush. My first Caribbean Dove. One Person, One Thing. This is the first time I have shared that so broadly. But she changed my perspective.
The environment changes, so sometimes the walls break down, the filters get less restrictive, the tint changes color, the background noise that was a quiet rustle becomes a deafening roar and those that formerly amplified your message may choose to smother it.
Ultimately, we create messages, encode them in media and send them through our environment to our audience.
Our Audience, however may include both the intended and unintended and they have their own prejudices, and ways of accepting and interpreting information.
The classic case of an intended vs. unintended audience is wartime transfer of messages. I have a message I want to get to someone else and I only want that person/group to understand. Or more importantly, I do not want a specific group to understand what I am saying. This is the same as with sports when teams communicate their plays to one another.
Our flowers in bloom are sending a message to pollinators, but a honeycreeper can take this cue to steal the nectar from the side of the flower, not providing any pollination service. Not the intended recipient of this message. A white male student sends the “n-word” out to his dormitory group chat. The group includes people of all races and administrators. Not the intended recipients. Somehow, you email your teaching and learning discussion to a student in another country that does not read your language. Perhaps, someone in 500 years reads your blog posts out of context and thinks you started the war of 2089. You cannot always control that.
Most recently, sext messages are a huge group of unintended audience messages. The “Locker Room Talk” tape of President Donald Trump and Billy Bush includes footage of communication not intended for general audiences. Even during the video, some statements made in and out of the presence of Arianne Zucker show who the intended audience was.
Now regardless of how you inform, create and package your message, which media you choose and which environment you deliver it in, your audience both intended and unintended also can receive and interpret that message differently.
You made a birdwatcher’s guide, beautiful illustrations in full vibrant color that represent the birds the way you see them. A colorblind birdwatcher picks up your book. They cannot identify the birds based on the message you delivered to them.
You invite a group of people to see a movie but do not apply captions or subtitles, you are unable to get your message to the deaf people in your audience. While, you can consider these things as you go forward developing your messages you cannot cover everything, but hopefully you try to consider some of this in the future.
You may want to create an accessible Powerpoint Slideshow or Youtube Video.
So now, I hope you have an idea of how communication works. Ideally, you use these to inform both your consumption of media and your creation of messages. What are your prejudices, filters, walls etc. both as origin and audience? What environment and media are you delivering your content through? And is this the best way.
I hope you enjoyed this message and you receive it well. If you did, you can send me a message via my blog https://ancillenodavis.wordpress.com/.
Have a great day.