This week, the readings got a little meta. They brought up ideas like motivation, context, time and community, and they made me think about how we form relationships that frame the way we interpret signs and symbols. Dr. Irvine in his “Introduction to the Technical Theory of Information,” describes “meta-information” to be a collection of our past experiences (individual and collective), social norms, shared meaning, etc. (Irvine, 5).
In keeping with Peirce’s theory of semiotics, signs and symbols are replicable expressions that are only recognized to have meaning because they are understood (Irvine, Primary Texts, 6). It’s a seemingly simple point, but when we think about signs, whether that’s a word a cell phone screen or a key change in a musical composition, we interpret it in a particular context, drawing on our shared knowledge.
So when I send a text message, I assume the recipient will know exactly what I’m talking about. These assumptions are situated in background knowledge, social norms, etc., and they act outside of the signal itself. In this way, communication is never isolated. It exists in the context of past and future messages. If I send a text that says, “what’s up?” to my friend from high school, that single text becomes part of a continuous interaction. And when I send it, I’m drawing meaning from our relationship up until that current moment in time.
This thought process brought up a few thought/questions: Sending a text involves encoding, transmitting and then decoding information, but the simple act of delivery doesn’t really mean the message was “delivered.” To that end, technical, social and cognitive elements of meaning making seem to be directly related to each other.
Since we’re inserting agency into a system that’s comprised of words on a screen, are there boundaries to the meaning we can and should draw from a single text? With context in mind, I often find myself downplaying the significance of a text message because the medium suggests that the content is brief/superficial and it’s devoid of emotion. In fact, sometimes texts invite us to over demonstrate how we are feeling with emojis and punctuation to represent how we feel, or how we want the receiver to think we’re feeling.
Along those lines, what happens if someone sends a joke that is intended to be humorous but the receiver doesn’t understand it? Is this what Floridi refers to as entropy (Floridi, 47)? Does that reflect the nature of their relationship or does it simply mean that there are limits to how we can draw meaning from a text? Or is it a combination?
Floridi, Luciano, Information, Chapters 1-4 (Oxford University Press Inc., New York, 2010).
Irvine, Martin, “A Student’s Annotable Peirce: Primary Texts On Signs and Symbolic Thought With Transcriptions of Unpublished Papers from Peirce’s Manuscripts”
Irvine, Martin, “Introduction to the Technical Theory of Information” (and using Information Theory + Semiotics)