Rendered Fat Content


Strobridge & Co. Lith.:
Kellar and his perplexing cabinet mysteries (1894)

"The problem with communication is the illusion that it's occurred."

a common bit of folk wisdom

Publishing serves as a means of communication, and as such, it's subject to all the laws governing it. Primary among those laws might be TheIllusion, TheIllusion that it occurred. We inhabit the pointy end of eons of development of our communication channels. The very best I can claim about any of them might be that they're still subject to the same illusion that communication ever occurs. I famously struggle to keep up with my email, for instance, whatever 'keeping up' might entail. I understand that the probability of me receiving and comprehending any individual email as its sender intended remains slight, almost zero. The Muse is forever discovering that I never received the message she forwarded to me last week and, upon researching the cause, typically finds the message right where she had thought it would be, sitting plaintively in my email queue. It had somehow slipped by me without my noticing. Independent of her intervention, I never would have "received" it. It's the same for everybody.

Face-to-face oral communication seems just as likely to surprise and fail.
We can never tell if what we believed we heard was what the speaker intended. We're safer to assume that it wasn't, or wasn't entirely. Those instances where we blithely presume to know and understand might be those moments when we can be reasonably sure that we misunderstood some significant portion of the message. We rarely even think to second guess our sense of certainty, for it seems like a reliably reassuring indicator, especially when it isn't and couldn't possibly be. We'd be better off if we could presume that we needed room for misconception, that some, perhaps significant portion of every communication came in the form of TheIllusion that it had occurred.

For instance, a published work, a book, can only ever carry TheIllusion that it’s finished. However cultured and curated the contents, some later essential something will inevitably end up missing. TheIllusion will still be working its curious magic long after publication, for each work will enjoy as many interpreters as it has readers, each with their unique set of expectations and each overlaying whatever the author might have been saying to reinforce TheIllusion that anything occurred as the author or the reader/interpreter intended. The space for misinterpretation remains just as large in Publishing as in every other form of communication. While the speed and volume of our communication continue to expand, the net breadth of our misunderstanding has remained constant or has even been growing. Apparently, the better the connection, the more likely the resulting disconnection. It's a universal law or something.

It does nobody very much good to over-anticipate the probability or the depth of TheIllusion. Bare awareness might serve as the best possible defense, even if it prevents nothing. To remain conscious in the face of TheIllusion does not affect the volume of miscommunication, but it might help to quell the damage. We need not presume understanding but choose to leave the mystery open, understanding that we probably didn't understand nearly as deeply as our best senses suggested we had. It's not bad to fail to receive a blind intention another attempted to send. Email's design guarantees that some significant but unpredictable portion of it will fail. Same story with every known form of communication. Shame on us for not noticing or so frequently forgetting this fundamental law of this universe, TheIllusion that any intended communication has occurred. The presumption never wasn't absurd.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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