The word communication comes from the Latin communis, common. It is the process of transmitting and receiving ideas, information, and messages. The rapid transmission of information over long distances and ready access to information have become conspicuous and important features of human society. To illustrate, it is the process of trying to share information, an idea, or an attitude. At this moment, I am trying to communicate to you the idea that the essence of communication is getting the receiver and the sender tuned together for a particular message.
At the same moment, someone else is phoning his wife telling her that he will be late for dinner. Someone else, a young man in a parked automobile is trying to persuade a policeman to cancel his speeding ticket. All these are forms of communication and the process in each case is essentially the same. Communication always requires at least 3 elements: The source, the message, and the destination. A source may be an individual or a communication organization (like a newspaper or television). The message may be in form of ink on paper, sound waves in the air or else.
The destination may be an individual listening, watching, reading, or even a member of a group, such as a discussion group, a lecture audience or even an individual member of a particular group. All the above illustration is referring to what is called the traditional concept of communication. On the other hand, the discovery of communication consists more in a new way of thinking about the human condition than in a new awareness of particular form of human action. Commonsense notions of communication often refer to it as one thing among others that human beings do.
That is, sometimes human beings sleep, sometimes they eat, and sometimes they communicate. Although this seems reasonable enough, it is not a sufficiently rich way to think about communication. The problem comes from constructing any viable definition of communication that excludes sleeping, eating, and other forms of activities. Sleeping while in class is a communicative event, and the manner place, and the companions with whom one eats comprises a rich communicative system. So, rather than defining communication as a subset of human activity, it is more appropriate to view all forms of human activity from a communication perspective.
This perspective sees all forms of human activity as a recurring, reflexive process in which resources are expressed in practices and in which practices reconstruct resources. In this sense, practices consist in actions such as building a bridge, playing bridge, and seeking to bridge misunderstanding; resources comprise the images, symbols, and institutions that persons use to make their world meaningful. The discovery of communication must be a part of any comprehensive story of the twentieth century.
Once keen intellects focused on communication itself, instead of using communication as a too familiar tool with which to describe and express other things, the deficiencies of commonsense notions of communication became quite obvious. However, it has been surprisingly difficult to construct a satisfactory alternative notion of how communication works and of what work it does. The crucial insight was, as mentioned earlier, a shift from thinking of communication as a subset of human activity to a conceptualization of it as a way of thinking about any given form of human activity.
By displaying the way resources are expressed in and reconstructed by practices, this communication perspective illuminates the way all forms of human activity participate in a continues, reflexive process of the creation and maintenance of social realities. By comparing the traditional concept of communication to the new one, we find that the traditional concept of communication holds that we exist in a material world, and we use communication to express our inner purpose, attitudes, or feelings, and to describe the events and objects of the external world.
Communication works well to the extent that it accurately expresses inner feelings or external reality, and when it produces understanding between the speaker and the audience. The alternative view is that we consist of a cluster of social conservatives, and that these patterns of communication constitute the world as we know it. In this view, communication is a primary social process, the material subsistence of those things whose reality we often take for granted, such as our selves, motives, what we would otherwise describe as facts, and so forth.
The characteristics of the material universe and the properties of mind are sufficiently different than any number of stories may be told that adequately count for the facts. This second view radically differs from traditional notions of reality as well as of communication. If it is accepted, it has profound implications for what it means to live a life, for social theory, for ethics and values, and for social institutions. As such, it should be accepted only with great caution.
The dynamic of the process of communication derives from the fact that human beings live simultaneously on two levels and must work to make the two fit each other. On one plane human beings are physical entities just like rocks and trees. When hit by a truck, human bodies fly in a ballistic trajectory no different from any other object of the same size and density. The attraction between two love-crazed teenagers at twenty is not greater than that between two trees of the same mass. When simple things go wrong with human beings, they die.
But on another plane, human beings live lives of moral significance in worlds of honor, dignity, and value. There never have been persons who have lived only on the plane of physical existence. When a human is hit by a truck, the consequence is never simply a matter of ballistics: was the victim foolish to have stepped in front of the truck? Was the driver negligent? Was it an accident or a homicide? When persons die, it is never simply a matter of mechanical malfunction: it may be a tragedy, a relief or a crime. When they born, it is never simply a biological event.
The way communication works is grounded in three universal aspects of the human condition: persons interpret their environment and their experience; they interact with their fellows; and they remind themselves that there is more to life than the immediate moment. These are called coherence, coordination, and mystery. These are not options in which persons may or may not engage, or variables that may be present to some extent; rather, they are constitutive aspects of what it means to be human. All human beings every where and always communicate by coordinating, achieving coherence, and experiencing mystery.
Although everyone achieves coherence, coordination, and mystery, not everyone achieves them in the same way. There are important differences among forms of communication, and these forms of communication comprise distinctive ways of being human. In the final analysis it is important to note that communication is still basically an art. Yet, we endeavor to introduce other fields into it such as science, technology, and philosophy in order to advance it. Moreover, its sophisticated understanding that makes it pairing with the human condition has evolved only recently. Therefore, it is really important to give communication its dues as an art.