Opinion: The History of Media-based Communication

I’m a creative media arts professional in AR/VR. If you’ve read my past articles, it’s easy to see that I have a fascination with communication tools. This article is not just about the tools but also about something more. I believe bridging things is our most fundamental challenge as humans. Communication is at the root of what brings us a feeling of life, it is that bridge that carries us together. A bridge which we all must cross no matter if we like it or not.

Distance is everywhere. From the moment a photon leaves the sun, it takes time to hit the earth and then reflect into our eyes. Sound waves take time to travel through the air to our ears. Even touch, which seems so immediate, needs to move our nervous system to our brains. It also takes time and space for our mind to create a representation of reality for us to even comprehend life.

No matter what, there is a distance that needs to be bridged to communicate. In the past, we have had many types of media that have helped in the way we accomplish this. Technologies that reach out to the boundaries of space or look inward to the inner workings of the body and mind.

It can be argued that all work involves communication. At this moment, right now though, I want to talk of day to day interpersonal communication and how we accomplish that. Some typical examples include the written letter, text messages, or email, the telephone or FaceTime, or more recently AR/VR.

Crossed wires may always happen especially with people who have a more difficult time communicating than others. People with disabilities, those who are illiterate or lack talent in a particular method of communication. These people may process things in unique ways that are more difficult for others to understand. Sometimes problems with the technology arise such as interference or malfunction.

It is easy for people to write off technology as the source of miss-communication, especially when it is used poorly. I often text message people in the same room for example. It seems like passing note, but when those messages get too long, that’s when it is better to walk over and say “hi.”

Likewise, I communicate with friends and family at a distance more when I text message and email than finding the time to talk on the phone or with FaceTime. In this case, I have to have more patience and accept that there are forces out of my control and indeed out of my range of comprehension that are influencing our communication. Like other people that is commenting who are there unknown to me. It’s still better than a letter sent via postal mail, but it has similar limitations.

I find phones and FaceTime to be much harder for communicating than texts but in other ways. For example, not getting the full picture of what’s going on on the other side while still having the demand to respond immediately. It’s like going down a river in a raft to me. The communication seems stressful, and when I’m done talking on the phone for a long time, I’m typically exhausted in all the processing I had to do to equate what the missing pieces were, even if it was fun. Sometimes I am even more frustrated at my own responses for lack of proper thought due to the flow and pressure of the conversation though.

Let’s take a step back. Right now I’m talking to no one in particular. I have all the information I need at this moment to communicate these thoughts to a potential audience. If I didn’t, I’d edit it. Person to person communication is different though. It’s less non-linear, I can’t write it. It’s a big drawback for accomplishing what we want because mistakes are more easily made and harder to fix.

We used technology in new ways today to work around this. I cannot reference the past easily with text messages, for example. With voice, it’s not as tricky as a keyboard to repeat my thoughts. We now attempt to compensate for this with media like screenshots or recorded threads, cut and paste, it’s getting there, but also it can seem like operating a space shuttle with all the buttons. It’s not as fluid as face to face and still has lots of consequences, added layers of complexity.

When I’m with someone in person, time and space seem fluid in our moment together. It’s kind of like a phone, however, because I’m immersed in reality without the constraints and limitations of media as much, it’s just more natural for me to turn off the extra processing and focus on more cerebral and emotional input. The sensory seems more honest to me, and I just take it in automatically. To me, physical presence is the best communication tool today, although still not ideal for some things.

If you divide communication into sensory and cerebral: sensory, like visual or audio communication and cerebral like written or computed information. Our reality or perception of it lacks all data in both realms, and probably always will. We can’t see or hear some of the full spectra of light or sound for example or get the info that augments the world in real time to give us a better understanding of what’s there, near and far. They both need to come together for full effectiveness. Today most people want to accomplish more and more with language. What this final effect results in though is unknown and for some that are more fearful, kinda spooky.

What fascinates me about VR/AR is that we will soon have a way to broadcast and receive messages from each other with our minds and our senses in fluid ways across vast distances and in new unique ways. It will by no means be perfect and may even open up a Pandora’s box. We have to cross that bridge though and then adapt.

Someone once told me that learning a new language is cool because “if you never knew how to ask for something, you’d never get what you wanted.” The world has changed in really profound ways since humans invented language and as we get better at it, we have found ways to give ourselves more control over our existence.

When I make things as a creative, I make a mess first and then clean it up. It’s not the only approach, but like it or not it’s how we are approaching all communication in this day and age. What we accomplish is bridging something that is important to us and making something new. For some of us, myself included, it’s our driving motivation in life.

We all have limitations, these little challenges that we overcome on a daily basis. For me finding a way to bridge communication challenges, with tools, for everyone, is my life’s work. If we didn’t have these tools, we wouldn’t have the ability to be creative or form relationships through our creativity. My thought is… what’s the point of being created if we can’t be creative?

Maybe letters, emails, texts, phones, FaceTime, AR/VR are not ideal, but like us, they are evolving. We all have to be creative with day to day communication sometimes just to get a straightforward thing across. Relationships are messy but so is the act of creativity. Creativity is happening in every single moment of your life, in every relationship you have, including with the very device you are reading this on. Next time you want to crush it, just think… bridges fall or burn, but we must always fix or find ways to build new ones.