The Nature of Communication

Communication is tricky at best. We interact, thinking we’re on the same page, and sometimes suddenly, we find out we’re not.

It’s not unusual to write a phrase and find out later that what was clear to me was lost on my readers. Choice of wording is tricky, and inevitably things can get lost in translation from my brain to the paper. All writers have this happen to a degree, it’s just a part of honing the craft and perfecting skills.

I recently finished reading the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning, and the final book, ‘Shadowfever’, debuted #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, so to say she’s got a healthy audience is an understatement. This dark urban fantasy series is full of flawed, power-hungry characters fighting over a dark object of of unimaginable power as they claw their way through an apocalypse in Dublin.

I visited the authors forums and enjoyed sharing revelations of the final tome with fellow readers. You know, who guessed certain plot points correctly, what Moning’s next series spin-off might entail, etc, etc. But then there were the questions by some that made me wonder–did you read the same book as the rest of us? The answers they got back were uniform and wonderfully politely handled, true to the plot the majority remembered (happily I counted myself in that group). But seriously, their comprehension in some cases was so far off the mark, I’m not sure where they even got the ideas. Moning is a great author, with awesome editors–is it just not possible to communicate clearly with every reader?

Now, from another angle, I’ve been reading Mark Morford’s ‘The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism’. This is a compilation of his articles from 2000 – 2010, and he’s lovingly added in select hate mail for your reading pleasure. Why? Because hate speech, when brought to light, loses its power. And they’re funny in their ignorance. 🙂 At least that’s my personal take.

In the hate mail you get the impression that the writers saw the word ‘homosexual’ and fired up their emails, unable to even process the remainder of the content of the message due to the power of the trigger being tripped. Granted Morford is unabashedly straight (not that it matters), but the gay-bashers don’t take the time to get their facts straight, all that matters is he defended gay rights in a column, and this deserves a page a vitriolic hate because he must be gay. What?

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Literacy is the challenge of our time. Reading comprehension is not a given. Healthy debate requires understanding the issue. Perhaps I only say this because I’ve written too many training manuals and user guides. It’s much harder to write directions than people think. Try it sometime. It’s a true education in how the human mind processes input, and how we tend to leave out assumed yet necessary steps.

What communication challenges do you suffer due to comprehension? Due to hate? I hope none. I hope when you find these issues in others, that you do your best to point them in the direction of education and open-mindedness. Of course, I did say ‘homosexual’ up there…

Here are some literacy statistics is from my friend Ursula’s 50 Books in One Year blog this week. How do these apply to you?

From The Literacy Company on reading:

  • 46% of American adults cannot understand the label on their prescription medicine.
  • It is estimated that as many as 15 percent of American students may be dyslexic.
  • 50 percent of American adults are unable to read an eighth grade level book.
  • There are almost half a million words in our English Language – the largest language on earth, incidentally – but a third of all our writing is made up of only twenty-two words.
  • In a class of 20 students, few if any teachers can find even 5 minutes of time in a day to devote to reading with each student.
  • Out-of-school reading habits of students has shown that even 15 minutes a day of independent reading can expose students to more than a million words of text in a year.
  • The average reader spends about 1/6th of the time they spend reading actually rereading words.
  • When the State of Arizona projects how many prison beds it will need, it factors in the number of kids who read well in fourth grade.

Those are some sobering stats! How about these:

  • 1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
  • 42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
  • 80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
  • 70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
  • 57 percent of new books are not read to completion.