We’ve all heard the philosophical cliché:
‘If a tree falls in a forest and there’s nobody there to hear, does it make a sound?’
We assume that the collapsing tree will send ripples through the air whether anyone is there or not. The only thing missing is an ear to collect the sound waves and a mind to understand them. Unless there happens to be a particularly intelligent squirrel nearby.
The implication is that unless a human being is handily available to perceive and give meaning to the tree’s experience, then the tree’s experience has no meaning. Or at least doesn’t register anywhere but within the tree itself.
At its simplest form communication is the sending and receiving of signals. The sound of the tree crashing being received by the nearby ear and decoded by the nearby mind.
If no one is there to hear you when you speak or think, are you saying anything?
Does the fact of communication confer meaning upon your utterances which otherwise they would lack?
After all, if you were to go through life having interesting thoughts but never finding an avenue to communicate them, they would be nothing more than the sound of endless tiny trees crashing to earth in a deserted forest.
It sounds a bit lonely. Perhaps loneliness can be defined as a lack of meaningful communication. On a simple level, we’ve all felt alone at a crowded party, and experienced the rush of validation when a good friend turns up to talk to.
The talking cure, as counselling is often called, works partially by giving meaning to your unheard inner world. Like having the book of you read aloud once a week to a fascinated fan.
It seems obvious that communication gives people meaning.
Which may explain the Twitter phenomenon – Twitter gives the illusion that you’re being listened to. Through social media we create communication bubbles; massive conversational meshes which couch us in a sense of meaning, and the comforting notion that you exist somewhere beyond the realm of your own immediate self.
Church being the clearest example of a place where communication generates meaning; both as communication within the congregation and with an over seeing deity through prayer.
The Twitter God
People in prayer once felt (or still feel) that their thoughts were swarming up in the stratosphere, being overheard by a universal being, a bit like that little Twitter bird. Perhaps praying was the forerunner of Tweeting, or perhaps Twitter has filled the gap left by prayer.
We all need to believe in something bigger than ourselves, and communication facilitates this. Even if that bigger thing is only ‘yourself as part a chorus of online chatter’.
Everything which makes meaning can be described as communication, and often in the context of ‘something bigger than ourselves’. The instinct for fame and celebrity, for no sake other than to be known, illustrates the deep desire to communicate and be heard for no reason other than to feel more meaningful.
Television, mobile telephones, radio phone-ins, online chat, Facebook’s comment feature, the World Wide Web itself.
No wonder we’re hooked on all these things, they are our meaning. Communication is meaning.
Those considered the best communicators, with the most effective communication skills, are often those who make others feel the most meaningful.
To communicate yourself - to convey your meaning successfully - while bestowing meaning on others is a powerful skill.