There has been a lot of discussion in class and online of simply, whether or not social media is improving our lives. Does social media help us feel more connected? Can it aid in more improved ways to drive social movements? Are we able to present ourselves more authentically online? It seems that we never have a concrete answer to any of these questions, though theorists take stances based on research they have conducted, but one can easily argue that these discussions are still ongoing and the position one takes of social media can change.
Now that we are at the end of the course, I feel like I have a better grasp on social media and the incredible impact it has had on our everyday lives in a very short timespan. However, I would like to go back to the basics of the transmission model of communication and how social media and digital media thrive on this model to the extent that it seems to be close to perfection. We are able to now instantaneously connect with someone all the way across the world by simply encoding a message to be perfectly decoded in its exact format to the other person (assuming they have compatible software).
Though as a communication student, I see the negative implications that this has on our way of seeing the world. Before I explain why, I will explain the differences that between communication and communications. The rise in communications (and I pluralize the term purposefully) has shaped our way of communication online and offline as following the transmission model – as if we are all containers of this thing called thoughts and we can somehow encode these thoughts into words and then somehow insert these thoughts into another’s head. Miscommunication then is blamed on noise that impedes on the message being transmitted to the other. Therefore, based on this model, if we make the message as clear as possible and eliminate all possible noise, we can then insert this information into anything and anyone and essentially solve the communication problem. If communication was this simple, why do we have an extreme majority of cases of miscommunication rather than successful communication? With the advance of technology, the communication problem should be solved.
This, we learn as communication students that this is hardly what communication is. The act of communicating is much more complex than that. Communication is the effect that a person has on another and not about the transmission of information. The words we speak from our mouths or the words we type or write, are only understood through a system of signs. To get a better understanding you can look in Saussure’s explanation of signs. One of the reasons why the transmission model of communication is frowned upon in the study of communication, at Waterloo at least, is because the onus of getting the ‘right’ message is on the receiver. If the sender has eliminated all possible noise to insert their message into the receiver, than the receiver should be able to unpack the message quite easily and if they can’t then they just need to work harder to do so. We see this all the time when interacting with people. Someone tries to explain an idea to you, and you are not understanding because they may be speaking jargon you don’t understand. They think that they are being perfectly clear because in their own specialized group, everyone understands them because they understand the jargon that is being used and it is your fault for not knowing the jargon used to explain this particular idea. In communication studies, we would instead put the onus on the sender in having to adapt to different audiences and understand that the transmission of the information is not important, but the effect and relationships that come out of the interaction you have with that person.
Coming back to social media, favouring the transmission model of information over the effect you have on another is harming our ability to relate to one another. Even if it is possible to transfer information or thoughts to another’s head, it puts us in a self righteous mindset of there being nothing wrong with us, but with the other person not understanding the encoding of the message. It impedes on our ability to grow and adapt to different situations when instead, we need to put the onus of communication on ourselves as ‘senders’ because in the end, our actions are the only ones we can control. Communication is all about empathy and thinking about how to enact the best effect on the other person and understanding where they are coming from. With the rise of communications and social media, it seems that we are obsessed with perfecting the art of transmission instead of working together to make sense of each other and to get along better. We need to keep in mind that though social media and communications are exemplary forms of the transmission model, that is not all there is to communication. We need to identify and separate the two distinctive terms if we are to truly use social media as a positive and progressive tool in our lives.