How the Transmission Model Works in the Dialogic Communication Ritual

Language and metaphors dictate perception by providing cognitive frames to make sense of the world.  The transmission model of communication is one of those conceptualizations, formulated by Shannon, to understand communication. This particular understanding of communication has dominated the discussion about communication and information. Shannon stated that “the fundamental problem of communication is that of reproducing at one point either exactly or approximately a message selected at another point.” [1] The fundamental problem of Shannon’s model, excluding semantical dimension of communication, would probably be resolved by using the term “signal” instead of the term “message.”

However, I would like to take a step back from this criticism. Rather than trying to situate meaning in Shannon’s model – and discussing how it doesn’t fit, I would like to understand what transmission system illuminates in regard to communication. All of the discussion about the transmission model describes how the model does not consider meaning, but there is no discussion about where the meaning lies. Lets consider the case of an e-mail, and try to locate meaning. The example of e-mail is particularly explanatory in this case, because there is a temporal dimension added to communication in e-mails, unlike face-to-face communication, or telephone talk. Communication technologies did not only provide communication among distant places, but they have also included a temporal dimension to it. Communication is not instant anymore; I may read an e-mail days after it was sent. Communication is, however, is still a dialogic practice regardless of the time and space introduced by new technologies.

In an e-mail, something is transmitted through the Internet network. In the case of e-mail communication, lets apply Shannon’s model not between me and the person who is e-mailing me, but rather between our e-mail boxes. In this case, the transmission model functions to describe the process between 1) a person sending an e-mail to me 2 ) that e-mail emerging in my Inbox. As an e-mail falls to my inbox, the transmission model is completed. My inbox receives a signal. The transmission model, in this case, works well in describing the signal duplication process. A documented “difference” is transmitted, and replicated through interfaces.

The duplication of signals, letting me to see a person’s e-mail in my computer’s interface, can be excluded from communication. If we do not let the temporal breaks and spatial distances enabled through communication technologies misguide our understanding, we can still employ Carey’s[2] ritualistic approach to communication external to the transmission model.

Meaning, on the other hand, lies in the sequence of letters. It is a certain use of alphabet that determines the meaning, and as long as the sequence of letters in an e-mail is reproduced, Shannon’s challenge, “reproducing at one point either exactly or approximately a message selected at another point” is accomplished. The transmission model describes a successful transmission process, which has created an interface, for a possible dialogic communication process to happen.


[1] Shannon, C. E. (2001). A mathematical theory of communication. ACM SIGMOBILE Mobile Computing and Communications Review5(1), 3-55.

[2] James Carey, “A Cultural Approach to Communication” (from James W. Carey, Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society. Revised edition. New York and London: Routledge, 1989. )