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Little Twitches


NextStage: Predictive Intelligence, Persuasion Engineering, Interactive Analytics and Behavioral Metrics Following on Measuring Measures, a little bit on communications without semantics (and I’ll freely admit I’m pulling this from of Reading Virtual Minds Chapter 2, What This Book is About. We’re going to consider analog and digital communications.

Communication is actually done on two levels, what are called digital and analog (and not to be confused with digital and analog thinking). The digital signal is comprised of the words themselves and their meanings as distinct lexical units. The analog signal is comprised of all the minute body movements and gestures and facial expressions and inflections and so on and so forth that happen while we’re exchanging words. In this context, “digital” is to “analog” as “form” is to “substance”. Without that analog signal the digital signal is often unclear and misunderstood, it is form without substance. Like all good digital signals, words by themselves have a one-zero, yes-no, up-down, on-off directionality to them, and that directionality isn’t governed by the person saying the word, it’s governed by the person hearing the word.

It’s the analog signal which lets the receiver know which direction those ones and zeros, yeses and noes, ups and downs, ons and offs are facing and how to interpret the digital signal. These analog cues are so important that people who communicate via sign-languages (Ameslan, Singlish, Freslan, Norslan, Brislan, etc.) actually make exaggerated movements and expressions, including stomping and popping sounds, in order to provide analog content to the digital content of the sign itself. The exaggerated movements and expressions are more readily seen and the stomping and popping sounds are felt as vibrations, all of which add analog meaning to the digital sign.

Here’s an example of how important analog content is to communication:

Anthony is a pretty boy

The above is a pretty innocuous statement, isn’t it?

Well, yes and no. It depends what I mean when I say it, doesn’t it? And the above line doesn’t provide you with my facial expressions, my body-language, so on and so forth, when I type it in. If you’re very clever, highly trained and monitoring me as I type, you could make a good guess whether I meant the above to be innocuous or not by how I typed that phrase (along with several other factors). But without that kind of analog information and just by reading the above phrase you don’t know if “Anthony is a pretty boy” is a taunt, a definitive statement or that Anthony is a cockatiel and the sentence is how he asks for a peanut.

But humans live in community and when there’s no other person to provide that analog information people will, instantaneously and without realizing what they’re doing, create a community with themselves and get the analog information there.

What does that mean? However you responded to the sentence “Anthony is a pretty boy”, it was all you and none of me. Don’t like what you read in an email? Make sure you’re responding to what’s written and not what you think is written.

Now let’s add some analog information — some substance to the form, if you will — to that phrase:

Anthony is a pretty boy

Anthony is a pretty boy

Anthony is a pretty boy

Anthony is a pretty boy

Anthony is a Pretty Boy

Different people will have different responses to each rewrite of that phrase because we have preconceptions about what each font communicates. Without my being directly in front of you and providing you with the analog information in toto with the digital information, I’m not communicating with you.

Most people would read each rewrite of “Anthony is a pretty boy” with a slightly different voice. Without someone providing the complexities of meaning that are part of communication beyond mere words, people respond to and communicate with meanings pulled from within themselves. However you responded to each rewrite of the above phrase, you were behaving in a way which was unique to you and unselfishly you.

Enter Semantics

The types of confusions I demonstrated in the above occur in print, in person, in any type and form of communication imaginable. Have you ever seen a commercial and wondered what they were really selling or who their audience was? Semantics would have helped.

The point being made here is that your communications — emails, brochures, mergers&acquisitions, websites, team meetings, … (Take your pick!) — aren’t communicating as well as they could or should.

How much money are you losing because people think you mean “Anthony” when you really mean “Anthony“?

(Text and images copyright Joseph Carrabis and NextStage Evolution 2006-2008)

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