Author Archives: Alvaro Espiritu Santo Raba

About Alvaro Espiritu Santo Raba

Blogger, Film-Geek, Social Media User and currently an M.A. Candidate in CCT at Georgetown University

The Water Cooler Talk: How we consume and share information and media.

Alvaro Espiritu Santo Raba

Since the beginning of time, human kind has evolved and grown around social experiences. Groups of cavemen worked together to hunt and collect food for the tribe, people gathered in festivals or carnivals to get acquainted  and develop stronger social bonds. When communities or villages grew on numbers, their skills, tools and environments improved greatly. The pressure of more people put more pressure on resources, forcing our ancestors to devise cleverer ways to obtain food and materials for bond tool-making. (Wong, 94)

Nowadays, thing haven’t changed much. We still have social gatherings that serve as an information exchange. 1271176642-watercoolerWhether we go to parties, dinners or other kind of events, human kind has the innate desire to talk with colleagues or friends and consume information. Concerning this gatherings, nothing stands out more as the famous “Water Cooler Talk” in the office.

Over small conversation of 10 to 15 minutes, people talk about their weekends; the activities they did or if they saw a particular TV show or even if they  went to the movies. After all, for any kind of media to me successful it has to become a social experience; we need to tell others about it. Take for instance movies. Every weekend, people go to their local movie theater in order to enjoy two hours of entertainment, they want to have the experience of being transported elsewhere and feel part of those magical worlds.

Sometimes movies transcend or break through the conventional narrative standards. They want to have people talking, create enough buzz so people may return and buy another ticket in order to comprehend what certain symbols or images may refer to.  People share their internal representations  with others so with the help of others, so they can form an external representation of what something really meant. After all,  a human mind becomes more powerful by its connection to a cultural network (Merlin Donald, 220)

In Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” (2010), a spinning top was used as a totem that could help us know if the characters were awake of if they were trapped in the dream world.  In the movie’s final sequence,  Leonardo DiCaprio arrives to reunite with his kids who haven’t seen him in a long time.  He arrives home and starts spinning his “totem” on the kitchen table, before we can see if the totem falls (real world) or keeps spinning (dream world) the film fades to black and to the end credits.


This made people anxious for answers. They contacted friends, searched online for interpretations and try to see if someone had a concrete answer for that particular ending. Even today if you google “Inception spinning top meaning” you would get around  68,000 results.  So as our ancestors did before us; we engaged in an cognitive activity to try to get some answers.  We combined our internal representations with our groups external representations so we could unravel the mystery, this distributed cognition (L. Patel 334) led to different interpretations about the movie, but made ourselves question the narrative quality of cinema and the stories portrayed in the screen.

I mention the scene in Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” because it is a moment filled with visual metaphors, our hero has finally achieved inner peace at the end of a difficult journey.  Cinema is well known for using  visual and spoken metaphors to convey ideas across.  Metaphors are not just a matter of language, but of thought and reason. (Lakoff, 192)  Maybe traditional media can learn something from the way cinema uses this “layered” almost poetic language.

Even though cinema has more time to produce and prepare it’s content. Information can’t just be thrown out d without repercussions due to short production times.  As communication professionals we have a responsibility to construct coherent, interesting yet elaborate messages that people can share with their peers or friends within these water-cooler conversations.

Communication can’t be seen now as a simple sender—message—-receiver.  Media has to acknowledge that every message constructed has the opportunity to reach millions at the time instead of thousands through the power of conversation.  Messages have to be constructed with a clear strategy in mind and as well as quality improvement through time.   How we might share and consume media  is important because they define our self-perception as individuals, communities or even as cities or countries.  The Water Cooler has just gotten bigger so the responsibility for those who generate information for this talks has increased.


Zhang, Jiajie, and Vimla L. Patel. “Distributed Cognition, Representation, and Affordance.” Pragmatics & Cognition 14, no. 2 (July 2006): 333-341.

Kate Wong, “The Morning of the Modern Mind: Symbolic Culture.” Scientific American 292, no. 6 (June 2005): 86-95.

Merlin Donald, “Evolutionary Origins of the Social Brain,”from Social Brain Matters: Stances on the Neurobiology of Social Cognition, ed. Oscar Vilarroya, et al. Amsterdam: Rodophi, 2007.

George Lakoff, “Conceptual Metaphor.” Excerpt from Geeraerts, Dirk, ed. Cognitive Linguistics: Basic Readings. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2006.

Language in the age of contemporary media

“The purpose of language is communication in much the same sense that the purpose of heart is to pump blood”. (Searle, 10)  Language is after all an individual and social construct we use in our daily lives to convey information and to communicate with one another. Without the formation of language we could not have traditional media like television, radio or cinema. So it is important to know that, like any other construct used in daily life, language needs to follow a set of rules in order to be properly used: phonology, morphology, lexicon, syntax and semantics are part of such an elaborate process that we have been able to master through practice and repetition. (Irvine, 4)

Human beings are born with genetically encoded information that allows them to learn their native language with a surprising ease. They gather external information transmitted by the people they see in the daily life and they eventually transform raw “baby talk” into a comprehensible and intricate conversational structure by learning the rules and parameters of the language in school. And that’s how we eventually start writing letters, essays, even stories or more elaborate pieces of information that can be portrayed within traditional media.

Languages around the world share certain similarities because in most of the cases they share an historical or geographical background. However, it is important to know that each of them has their own set of rules and structures. And that’s why people with linguistics aptitudes can become bilingual or even multilingual in some cases.

Like Japanese, Spanish or English; the different communication tools used in media have their own set of rules. That’s why we have to use transform and adapt our ideas to build messages that can have better reach to our audience but make the best use of language. Language is a tool we can exploit greatly for creative purposes “The infinite use of finite media distinguishes the human brain from virtually all the artificial languages we commonly come across”. (Pinker, 87)

That’s why I think the most successful approaches of language use come from advertising. Tag lines are smart, short and yet able to transmit powerful ideas that can be assimilated and remembered throughout the years. This comes as a proof the communicators share an unspoken responsibility to learn and make the most use of language; they should commit to really dig into the study of linguistics.  Should the study of language for communication professionals should be deeper and more serious?

After all,  “the glue that holds the elements together into a speech act is the semantic intentions of the speaker”. (Searle, 17)


We are seeing a revolutionary use of language in current media. The exposure that people come across nowadays make them immune to the messages we are trying to get across, messages are becoming shorter and somehow more powerful with the appearance of things like twitter and the use of hashtags.


This context has made an impact in media. We are able to see that the language used in media has been transformed by the appearance of Social media and electronic devices.  We have access to more information so we have to make it shorter and somehow more attractive to the end-user, people should be attracted to the idea of reading the news from our media outlet than from the competition. These are some of the game changers for traditional media that has affected newspapers, magazines or even newscasts.

Full and developed messages are becoming overrun by the appearance of shorter yet seemingly more powerful ideas. This has affected the media we consume and our lifestyle in an almost symbiotic way. In the world where language is limited by 140 characters we have to be precise and consistent with the ideas we are trying to send across.


Martin Irvine, “Linguistics: Key Concepts” (Comparing structuralist and Chomsky’s linguistic concepts)

John Searle, “Chomsky’s Revolution in Linguistics,” The New York Review of Books, June 29, 1972.

Steven Pinker, “How Language Works.” Excerpt from: Pinker, The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language. New York, NY: William Morrow & Company, 1994: 83-123.

The stories we tell and the way we do it.

I strongly believe after going through all the reading material that messages are pieces of information that are given a structure and then encoded so they can be sent to a particular receiver whether it’s a group or a single individual. Each piece of information that becomes a part of this message has it’s own content, but it depends mostly on the sender to determine which approach is best used in each scenario to deliver this content.

Human natural language may be somewhat limited a a modeling system because a single idea may not be powerful enough to reach each possible niche that exists within earth’s population with the same impact.  That’s why advertising campaigns, marketing campaigns and even films have to adapt to each country or region’s cultural background.  I strongly believe that communication and media should continuously adapt itself every time it produces new content.

Mirror-Mirror-International-Posters-the-brothers-grimm-snow-white-2012-29487714-671-960  Mirror-Mirror-International-Posters-the-brothers-grimm-snow-white-2012-29487695-682-960

With a lot of information available, things are always in how we perceive and process information.  People have access to a lot of information and content so we have to take a fresh perspective in how we are going to tell our stories.  Maybe in the following years people may receive not only “recommendations” but personalized mainstream media?

That’s why meanings come into play while we are coding (as a sender) and decoding as a receiver. It has to do with using our perception and our “life toolkit” (which includes our personal background, experiences and beliefs) to construct messages that our target audience may understand with ease while we’re constructing ideas. It’s like playing a game of charades, every one has to make use of what we know so our partner understands what we’re trying to say.


People who have a theoretical or professional background in communication know that communication models work as a blueprint of how this whole process works.  Somehow i think the may narrow our perception or creativity as a sender while building a message. Communication models are not adaptable and in some cases old enough because they were designed in another historical context.  Are we perhaps entering an era where the best ideas are being delivered out of instinct and randomness and not by structure and patterns?

That’s why it’s important to look into some of the work some of this field’s professionals are doing today. We can adapt our context and environments while telling our story.  Tools as viral marketing or even flashmobs are changing the rules of the game and raising up the standards so brands and individuals can be recognized in this ever changing world.

Westjet Christmas

We certainly need to know how to tell a story which ever our media is. It’s important to broaden our horizons and get a better grasp of the world, the tools and the people who are part of the stories we tell.