Posted on Sep 4, 2014
Hamburg, Germany

What really is communication? This is not really a question that I am qualified to answer, as whenever I find myself with other people that I don’t know I’m not really sure what to do. With new acquaintances there’s a required round of ice-breaking, which to me represent the uninteresting bridges that have to be crossed before the conversation proper can be reached. It’s often uncertain if I’ll get to the other side of that bridge at all, as sometimes the formalities seem more treacherous than a quick jump over the guardrail and into the river.

Sometimes though, communicating with someone new is akin to looking upon a new painting in a museum the first time. On its surface, it’s similar to all the other paintings that you’ve seen–it’s oil on canvas hanging surrounded on four-sides by an oak frame. But when you start to take a closer look at it, you start noticing all of these details that you didn’t notice before. Academics can spend entire years studying a single painting. This metaphor only applies so far; what is missing is the ability of the painting to look back on you as a painting for it to study.

But this interpretation of communication is flawed–communication is actually about filling the space between the communicators with content. Like building up a clay house, communication is often many people throwing mud in the general direction of a topic. And no one exactly knows what a clay house actually looks like or should look like (forget a clay house, what does just a house look like? Find me two people who can agree on that…) With this chaotic creation process, it’s a wonder that anyone finds it worthwhile to communicate at all.

Yet this interpretation of communication is also not completely accurate, because it presupposes that the goal of communication is to construct some preconceived edifice with content, but more often than not the goal of communication is to rebel against one’s state of isolation. For each human is an island unto himself. For as much as I may wish to feel your sadness when you’re sad or share you happiness when you’re happy, I can never share that emotion, I can only react to your emotion state (this is what we call sharing a feeling). There is a separation between “I” and everything else that is impossible to cross, though some hallucinogens such as psilocybin and MDMA have been reported to lower the barrier somewhat. Communication affirms to us that we are real and do exist, because the person with whom we are communicating responds to us, because if we did not exist there would be no us to which the interlocutor could respond to.

As much as communication can be agreeable, it’s a tedious western habit to understand that in communication one means conversation and in conversation one means speaking without breaks. Communication happens in many ways and often silence is as effective as a means of communication as speaking. It is worth taking time to consider silence as a point to consider what was said before the silence. Additionally, in silence communication can happen through the tactile and optical senses. Two pairs of eyes staring at one another and holding hands makes a message quite clear to each other and to others.