com·mu·ni·ca·tion [kuh-myoo-ni-key-shuhn]

Communication. If you had to pictorially describe what that word means, what would you draw? Would you draw a pencil or a pen? Would you draw a telephone? Would it be a rotary phone or a cell phone? Would you draw two heads facing each other with lines coming out of the mouths (to symbolize the auditory representation of words)? Would you draw word bubbles instead? Would the facial expressions be happy, sad, or neutral? If you drew a group of people facing one another, would they be touching? Would you accentuate the ears by drawing them extra large? Or would it be the mouths that are bigger? The collective image of things that you would include and exclude reveals a great deal about your knowledge, opinions, and experiences with communication.

Current technology has made it possible to express our every thought and action and disseminate it instantly to a relatively large number of people. The benefits and consequences of this are often visible in real-time (from errors in grammar [1] to errors in judgment). Besides those of us who gripe and cringe at seeing the proliferation of “text-speak” (the use of truncated words) outside of Twitter, I wonder how many people really care about and consider the quality of their communication?

It is surprisingly (and frighteningly) easy to take for granted our ability to communicate [2]. We do it all the time—consciously and subconsciously—in what we say, write, do, and even how we dress. From my experience, lazy communication develops from assumptions. We make small and large communicative assumptions all the time and—in negative interactions—we get upset when we are misunderstood. We forget that clear and effective communication (i.e. using purposeful word choice, understanding your audience, presenting a logical train of thought) can make a world of difference.[3]

So, how do we hold ourselves (and each other) accountable for the quality of our communication? We all know that we should say what we mean, mean what we say, and really listen. But of course, that is often easier said than done.

Artist/Technologist/Educator Kate Harman has a unique approach to being a more self-aware communicator. Hers is just one example of how making sure to think about communication in a creative way—to continue exploring the different ways in which we can and should express ourselves—is an important practice.




[1] A quick Google search for “grammar mistakes on Facebook” will reveal numerous examples that would make any logophile’s toes curl.

[2] In one case study from his book, An Anthropologist on Mars, author and neurologist Oliver Sacks describes how a 65 year-old painter becomes suddenly colorblind after a car accident. For most of his life, he communicated through his paintings, using vibrant colors and shapes. After the accident, he is limited to experiencing and interacting with the world in shades of black, white, and grey and has to retrain his brain to identify shapes and outlines. It is a poignant reminder about the varied types of communication that people use to express themselves and the impact that occurs from having that ability distorted or taken away completely.

[3] This communication analogy is a great example: “The Blind Man and The Advertising Story.”


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