Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Is it still communication if nobody reads it?

Today is an off day for Mormon news -- more on poor Mr. Yettaw and a bit in the Washington Post about a short play set in a tour of a Mormon Temple.

So, my doctoral research has set me thinking.  Is it still communication if no one reads or responds to a message sent?

This kind of forlorn question might have seemed silly a decade ago -- when mass media still dominated.  Today, in an era of unread blogs, of pointless tweets and unopened letters amid shrinking audiences, the question has profound implications.  (And hardly opened dissertations have always been an example of this kind of communication.)

LDS scholar John Durham Peters book, Speaking into the Air, for my money the most important book on communication history and thinking in a very long time, asserts that the essence of communication is MIS-communication.  The missed signal, the poorly turned phrase, the unopened letter and the silence of ritual, all can be important forms of communication -- even as they really don't convey information.

Indeed, our attempts to communicate with the dead by silently leaving flowers at graves or celebrating images of dead relatives, are among the most profound things we do, he seems to tell you.

His moral, it seems to me, is that in a world with high expectations of communication and dialogue and persuasion (Ever notice how deep President Obama's assumptions are about the possibilities for dialogue?) remains that it is OK when communication doesn't have its intended result, when we miss on our messages.  Much like the sower planting various seeds in a wide variety of ground, so communication is an attempt to reach across the chasm that separates us as humans.  His solution is simple kindness and patience in the face of bleak disconnectedness.

What does this have to do with Mormonism?  Well, media portrayals often show us as secretive and deceptive -- Pew has suggested it is a common perception of us among non-Mormons.  That we often embrace silence as part of our religion, and that journalism ethics seem to have an aversion to secrecy,  (We Mormons do show proper concern for secrets and combinations.)  we have no need to apologize for this part of our religious practice.  Silence can be a form or substance of communication, as legitimate as dialogue.     In times of trial, it may be the last form of communication available to us, as when Mormon stood as a silent witness of Nephite apostasy.  Without silence, we have no communion -- no communication -- in nature or in our temples.   Silence is OK.

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree; it seems everyone talks but nobody listens.