… First I would like to concern myself with the point at which communication breaks down. The experience that occurs when one makes the discovery that someone to whom expressions are directed will invariably misinterpret them… or behave in a way that is unexpected and/or less than pleasing.

But what is communication? It is the sharing or trading of an idea. In every situation that involves two or more living organisms conscious of each other’s existence or proximity, communication occurs. Meanings are demonstrated and response to them is generated in the form of further demonstrated meanings.

This would all be very simple were it not for the situations we find ourselves in when information flow is interrupted, when we have insufficient data. In decisions, data is weighed and value is assigned to each variable. But when the unknowns are assigned value exceeding that of the available data, decision must be postponed until either 1) more data becomes available, or 2) reevaluation is complete.

This illustration shows the steps involved.

Now that that’s cleared up (or is it? …more data… no new data…), we can move on to the original question.

Communication is when the Other becomes a datasource, as in box “Data input”. As an element of the environment, some living organism is the source of data, or signals, that earn a value rating of over nil.

Now, the Other is going to be considering this as well. Whether we are intentionally directing signals toward another or not, our actions will be perceived and interpreted and rated in importance.

Communications breakdown is when you become exasperated and end up saying, “I can't explain it to you!” and you know that the other person, who has not been following, will conclude from this that whatever it was you were trying to say had no value anyway; when they say to themselves in response, “That doesn't make sense,” and you realize that you have not even been able to communicate the sense of urgency that you felt about the matter, let alone the substance that elicited the urgent reactions.

Originally appeared in Inside Joke #8

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