Communication is Key

19 February 2021

Jeff McCarty

The art of communication has been a skill that has helped our societies advance to the size and complexity that they have been able to achieve. Though the act of communicating isn't necessarily special to the human species, what is special is the things that we can communicate about. Humans have a special ability to make things up. Although certain creatures can communicate information to others in their group no other creature can fabricate ideas into a creation that was previously nonexistent.

For example, tufted capuchin monkeys are known to sound a false alarm of a predator approaching to steal food from others in their group while they hide from the supposed threat. Though the monkey is fabricating the fact that an actual predator is near, they cannot imagine a new type of predator, let alone convince their peers that some new unseen monster is afoot. Humans on the other hand have mastered this ability to think up and communicate new concepts altogether.

With this ability to communicate with each other about a vast array of topics, ideas, and concepts, we are left with the question of what we will spend our time communicating about. To answer this question first requires us to visit another thread of thought on the reason why humans communicate. It's easy to say we can communicate, and even easier to just assume the role communicating plays in humans is to convey information from one human to another. What isn’t so straight forward is when we look at the communications we have and see that the content of many communications overwhelmingly has little to do with communicating information objectively. Often, we are using our ability to communicate to send a signal to the human on the other end of that communication. We can think of this as an underlying message in the communication itself. For anyone who has ever heard their significant other say that they are not mad at you, even when you know they are should understand how the delineation of the upfront communication and the underlying message can occur.

With an understanding of communications and their role in our existence, we can now turn our attention to the question of what people prefer to communicate about. This is where things become interesting. The topics that one chooses to discuss are a direct reflection of the person in question and is an almost steadfast rule that applies to all humans. This of course can be thought of as another signal to decode from the sender. One factor that must be understood is that this view into one’s interests can only be seen based on the topics they choose to initiate communications about. We can sometimes be pulled into conversations that we would like nothing better than to avoid, yet have no choice but to speak on the topic after being pulled in. The topics that we choose to discuss though are insights into our opinions, interests, and beliefs.

What one can find as having the utmost importance of being discussed, can seem completely worthless in discussing to another. With so many different topics to choose from and with so many humans available to discuss these topics, it can be hard to decide what is worth discussing and what is a waste of time. We all seem to make this distinction daily though, wading through all the noise and finding the signal that we are allured by. On a micro-scale, there can seemly be nothing wrong with this. People get to communicate about the things that interest them and can avoid discussing things that are uninteresting to them. This is essentially Freedom of speech.

On the macro scale though, we must ask how the choices an induvial makes regarding the topics they choose to discuss impact society. Now by no means am I advocating for some restrictionist view of speech where the topics people are allowed to discuss are preapproved by some central authority. What I am concerned about though, is a society in which the actual problems facing that society are never discussed. Not because of an authoritarian control on speech, but because of a pure disinterest in having conversations on these topics.

Now, this disinterest can stem from multiple sources. These are not the type of conversations that generally come off as appealing or sexy. It's not the type of conversation anyone is having at the club, to say the least. They also require nuance and even a deep understanding of other topics to properly dabble in the vernacular needed to have the conversation which in turn makes it difficult to participate. Despite these barriers towards having conversations about the problems facing society, for those of us who are concerned about the state of society we must continue. For if we are to ever lose our interest in discussing the problems facing our species, it will undoubtedly be the beginning of the end for our species.

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