February 22nd, 2010


LJ Idol week 15: failure to communicate

What if writing on LiveJournal isn’t communication?

I know this is a weird thing to be blogging about, it's very 'the snake eating its own tail'. But it’s a question worth asking.

Communication can be defined as a message from a sender to a recipient. Three distinct pieces are involved in the equation. The sender, or in this case, the writer.  The message, the words themselves.  And the recipient, the reader.

So when you write a blog, on LiveJournal or somewhere else, who is receiving? Hundreds of people could be reading this, or no one could be reading this. Let’s face it, we all write differently depending on who we think is going to read our words. An event described in a private diary would be very different from the description of the same event in a letter to parents, and different again from what we would chat about with friends over coffee. The recipient has a lot of power to determine the message. 

Then there are the more obvious issues.  Words on a page come without body language or cues of tone to help convey their meaning. No matter how many emoticons or *sarcasm*s you type among your words, there’s still a chance that the person reading just doesn’t get it. Maybe they are in so bad a mood it colors everything they read that day, making your words unfathomably dark. Maybe they mistook a word you used for something spelled similarly, and lost all the meaning. Maybe the faceless reader chooses to sing aloud every entry to the tune of the Olympic theme song.

The writer of a blog has no control over the reader at all, no control over one third of the equation that equals communication. You can’t wait for your reader to be in the right mood to tell them something, or guarantee that they’ll get the rhythm of the joke correct to really enjoy the punch line. Hell, you don’t know for sure that anyone is out there at all. 

And the issue of the reader also affects the message, another third of the equation. Certainly there’s still a message there, but is it as strong or as focused as it could be if you knew exactly who was going to read your writing?

With two thirds of the equation that equals communication in doubt I have to ask again: what if blogging isn’t communication; or at least not successful communication in a traditional sense? What are we all doing here?

Maybe the point isn’t to communicate, at least not really. Maybe the point is in the third of the equation that can’t be denied – the sender. Maybe the point is to keep writing even if we’re all just shouting into a wilderness of nothing. And maybe, every once in a while, all of the pieces will line up perfectly despite all the difficulties, and someone will be in exactly the right mood and place and time to be able to read exactly what we intended to write.

Maybe LiveJournal is about the possibility of communication, not a guarantee.

I think I can live with that.

***Welcome to week 15 of LJ Idol, the topic this week is "Failure to communicate".  I made it through last week's contestant-only vote and am excited to still be in this thing.  Who knows if there will be a poll this week, but if so I'll link back to it here.  Thanks for reading."***

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