Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Glossary of Terms for the United States of Amnesia: Communication (English Studies)

Communication: (by Rob Pope)

Communication as a word derives via French from the Latin communicare meaning ‘to share’, ‘to make common’, as well as ‘to impart’ (information) and ‘to convey’ (goods). The distinctions among these meanings are worth emphasing because they point to fundamental differences in the theory and practice of a whole range of activities we now call communications. Basically, there are four interrelated ways in which we can conceive of the process of COMMUNICATION: one-way; two- or many-way; exchange and change; through medium and context.

1) In a one-way process, information is ‘imparted’ or goods ‘conveyed’ from one person (or source) to another: addresser to addressee; A - B. In terms of language this corresponds to monologue, and is generally referred to as uni-directional, linear or transference model of communication. This model is properly used in communications engineering where the aim is to transmit a signal from transmitter to receiver in the purest form possible and with the minimum interference or ‘noise’. Monologic, one-way modes are also common in social situations where there are marked differences in power and authority (e.g., in traditional sermons and lectures, where the preacher or teacher is institutionally empowered to speak for long stretches without interruption or audible response).

2) In a two- or many-way process, information is shared, goods are made collectively, and they are in some sense held in common. In terms of language this corresponds to dialogue, and is in general referred to as a multidirectional, recursive (‘feedback’) or interactive model of communication. In this case the emphasis is on communication as a complexly interactive process, not simply proactive or reactive. For instance, addresser A talks to addresser B, who then responds but is interrupted by addresser C. Meanwhile, participant D goes out without saying anything but having heard everything (though she wasn’t meant to). She is thus, technically, neither addresser nor addressee, but is still a very important participant. Such many-way modes of communication are the norm in conversation, and in this case the activities of interruption or joining in are not merely ‘noise’ or ‘interference’ to be eliminated. They may turn out to be a crucial part of the interaction.

3) Communication as a process of change as well as exchange. This applies whether the communication system involved is as obvious as a plane full of people or a ship full of cargo (i.e. transport system) or as inconspicuous as a trace on a computer screen or a movement of air between speaker’s mouth and a hearer’s ear. In any event—in every event—neither the vehicles which carry the ‘message’ (the MEDIA), nor the materials themselves nor the participants involved are left unchanged by the process. Nothing arrives exactly as dispatched; it may or may not reach its projected destination, and both senders and receivers are never quite—or at all—the same again. Notice, too, that this notion of communication as ex/change has a symbolic or semiotic dimension. Values are transformed, never simply transferred, once they are communicated. In this respect all communication is a form of translation and revaluation in the fullest senses.

4) Communication also varies markedly according to MEDIUM, context and participants. It is convenient to distinguish various kinds of communication in these respects, some of which overlap:

• face-to-face, where all participants are ‘present’ in that they are in the same time and place, share an immediate context and can address one another directly (e.g., most conversation);

• mediated, where one or more of the participants is ‘absent’ and in a different time or place; the contexts are therefore various and some of the commun-ication must be indirect (e.g., all writing, print and telecommunications, including television and the Internet);

• ‘live’, where participants communicate at the same time but in different places (e.g., a telephone conversation, an instantaneous broadcast). The inverted commas confirm the mediated aspect of the contact;

• Recorded, where some trace of the message is stored and may be subsequently retrieved. Writing, print, film, audio and audio-visual tape, as well as computer memory and disks are all ‘recording’ technologies in these respects;

• Non-verbal, not using words, but other signs and sign-systems. (Notice that the treatment of ‘verbal’ as norm and ‘non-verbal’ as marked betrays a word-based, logocentric, bias.)

A couple of further cautions and qualifications may be added. First, all communication is in some sense interpersonal, so it can be confusing to talk specifically about interpersonal communication when what is meant is face-to-face interaction. A more precise and useful distinction is that between interpersonal communication (self with others e.g., ‘I’ with ‘you’. ‘she’ with ‘he’) and intrapersonal communication (self with self e.g., ‘I’ with ‘me’). Second, we must beware of treating face-to-face communication as unproblematic and even the norm. Certainly, face-to-face communication may be more immediate than mediated or recorded communication, but it is not necessarily simpler or less problematic. For one thing there are many more codes to cope with in face-to-face communication than in writing or print: ‘body language’ and context as well as verbal language. For another thing the participants may be physically present in the same time and space; but they may have widely varying premises, aims, values and frames of reference. People are still in some respects absent from one another even when they are ostensibly ‘present’. Indeed, PSYCHOLOGICALLY, no one is wholly ‘present’ to (i.e. conscious of) her or him self—let alone to others. What’s more, all experiences are mediated by our consciousness and by our perceptual—including biological and technological—apparatuses. Hence the need to understand mediation as both apparatus and process.

(Pope, Rob. English Studies Book: An Introduction to Language, Literature, and Culture. 2nd ed. Routledge, 2002: 66-68)

Glossary of Terms for the United States of Amnesia

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