Category Archives: Week 7

The Transmission Model of Communication: Creating an Interface for Dialogic Communication

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At the heart of the transmission model is what Shannon call a “conceptual metaphor” that utilizes technology such as communication systems, to explain various aspects of the communication process. There are six basic elements to Shannon’s original diagram as shown below; an information source, a transmitter that encodes the message into signals, a channel that signal are adapted for transmission, a receiver, a destination and a factor-noise that might interfere with the travel of the message. The noise, for example, could come from another distractor. I would like to understand how Shannon’s model of transmission system could illuminate how we humans communicate.

There is a lot of discussion around how the transmission model does not take into consideration the meaning of the message- but how about lets turn towards where the meaning actually lies. How about, for example, a text message. There is a virtual communication aspect added to text messages given that there is no face-to-face communication or phone communication. Even if there is this temporal dimension added, communication is now instant, just like it is face to face.

In this case, something is transmitted through the internet network. By applying Shannon’s model, we can see that there is communication not only between the person who is texting me and and myself but between my messages and their messages. When I sent a text message, that message is seen in the other person’s “iMessage” application and receives and signal. There is a difference between their message box before I sent the text and now after- signaling that an added difference is transmitted and replicated through interfaces.

The meaning is encoded in the very sequences of letters themselves- various takes on the alphabet determines the meaning of the message that plays into Shannon’s point of “reproducing at one point either exactly or approximately a message selected at another point” that is ultimately accomplished. The transmission model ultimately encapsulates a transmission process that creates an interface that enables a dialogic communication process to ensue.


Martin Irvine, Introduction to the Technical Theory of Information 

Ronald E. Day, “The ‘Conduit Metaphor’ and the Nature and Politics of Information Studies.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science 51, no. 9 (2000): 805-811.


The Alien Emoji: Meaning and pace of change

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In 2015, many iPhone users ignored – as usual – their phone’s demands to update their operating system. Not long after, those same users started receiving surprising messages from friends:

Users took their fears and confusion to the internet, “What does the alien in a box emoji mean????”

This fun bit of work by Apple programmers illustrates the disconnect between data transmission and meaning interpretation inherent in text messages. Behind the scenes text message communications function in a not dissimilar way from the telegraph. On one end of the chain a human party chooses from a set of pre-determined symbolic characters and arranges their selections through the interface in a manner meaningful to them and ideally meaningful to the receiving party. Those symbols are encoded in a universally agreed upon manner for transmission to the receiving party’s phone. The receiving phone decodes the representations of the symbols according to the “cipher” it maintains for such communication – the library of pre-determined symbolic characters its user has access to. Finally, the receiving party takes in the representation of those characters decoded by their phone and uses cultural and interpersonal context to interpret meaning into those characters.

So what about the alien in a box?

With no social or cultural norm to help the receiver understand the meaning of the symbol, and with no decipherable context clues to deduce a meaning, the alien in the box confounded recipients. This lack of ability to interpret meaning is akin to the experience of someone sitting at the receiving end of a telegraph symbol who does not know morse code: the signals being received have no cipher by which to translate them and therefore carry no meaning for recipient. That was exactly what happened in the case of the alien in a box:

The new operating system had introduced additional symbols into the set of symbols its users could choose from to build their messages. When the recipient’s cipher, its set of symbols, lacked these new options, the bits received for those symbols did not align with any existing symbols and were therefore represented by an “error” symbol.

Not being able to understand their messages led to a lot of anxiety for users. What were their friends trying to say to them? And more importantly, why couldn’t they send one back? This gets into a much deeper discussion of the role of symbol based communication in our daily lives and an ingrained desire to not be left behind when someone else has something new. Fundamentally though, it illustrates how users of symbolic communication are dependent on the accuracy of their individual ciphers to translate messages. What their ciphers can’t do, however, is explain to them what those messages mean.

Email Delivery and Reciept

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The information transmission model as diagrammed by Claude Shannon demonstrates the movement of information between five stakeholders. The first stakeholder is the information source which is the creation of the information, the second stakeholder is the transmitter of information which organizes the information into a format that can be interpreted by the receiver. During this stage, there is opportunity for a mistake or disruption in the delivery of the information. The initial message can simply be stopped between the transmission and the receipt of information due to noise. In my experience, this delay and sometimes failure of a message to be sent can be seen when sending an email. Sometimes due to poor internet connection or system issues, emails can get stuck in the “Outbox”.  In this example, my outbox is the transmitter and the noise that interrupts the delivery of the email is the poor internet connection. However, once the issue solving the noise is resolved then the message can effectively be received and delivered to the recipient.(Irvine)


Image result for email outbox

Shannon’s diagram clearly explains the physical and digital aspects of message creation and delivery but it does not take into account the social, cultural or societal implications of message delivery. If the diagram were to attempt to explain the meaning of sending a message there would be many more opportunities for noise and disruption. In using my example of sending an email, the first opportunity for disruption in sending an email would start with the sender. The sender’s language used can be a cause for disruption in sending the email, because if the sender does not add a subject line to their email, the sender may receive an error message and may be unable to send the initial message. The next opportunity for noise is accounted for in Shannon’s original diagram, with the email getting stuck in the outbox of the sender’s email account. The third opportunity for disruption of the information transmission model if it accounted for content and meaning would be in the receiving stage. Due to a typo in the sender’s initial message, the recipient of the message may be an undetectable email address. Another issue that may arise is that the sender’s message may get put into the receiver’s spam folder, not the inbox where the receiver will get notification of the message. But even if the sender did not have any typos or make any mistakes in the development of the message, Shannon’s model does not account for the relationship between the sender and the receiver. If the sender and the receiver are angry with each other the receiver can block all messages from the sender, disrupting the process. Also,  if the sender and the receiver speak different languages, the message may arrive to the receiver, but he or she may not be able to interpret it. Finally, if the sender uses symbols or words that cannot be transmitted due to noise from the receivers device or internet carrier, then the message sent can be misconstrued or misunderstood. Overall, Shannon’s diagram does not take into account the dynamism of human relationships and human error.

Image result for message cannot be delivered


For the effective delivery and interpretation of messages, senders and receivers must have the same sociocultural understanding of the language in the message. Without this understanding, this noise can impact the ultimate completion of the information transmission model. As mentioned in my examples of noise in the email delivery, if  the receiver does not understand the language of the  sender’s message, despite his or her ability to read it, then the message is not meaningful to the sender. According to Floiridi, `Meaningful’ means that the data must comply with the meanings (semantics) of the chosen system, code, or language in question.( Floridi 2010). The message itself  can still be meaningful but the lack of understanding inhibits the final delivery of the message.


Martin Irvine, Introduction to the Technical Theory of Information

Luciano Floridi, Information: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Weekly Response – Week 7

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Huazhi Qin

In everyday life, we take it for granted that we use computers to directly communicate with others. Computer (actually text software or other chatting apps) can transmit the message we send to other people. Then when people receive that message, they will naturally get what we want to say.

Thus, it is really interesting for me to think about the paradox proposed in The Information Paradox that “how can a system process information without regard to its meaning and simultaneously generate meaning in the experience of its users”. (Denning and Bell, 2012) What commonly thought is that meanings are inherently incorporated in the message or information we sent. But actually, there are not.

Shannon demonstrates in his information theory that information can be transmitted and received accurately by processes that do not depend on the information’s meaning. (Denning and Bell, 2012) Just like, a message can be sent to and displayed in another screen whatever the meaning is. So can the social media post and digital images. Whatever the meaning is, the transmission process can be achieved technologically.

So where is the meaning in this process? According to Denning and Bell, Information always has two parts, sign, and referent. Meaning is the association between the two. In other words, when people attach signs to referents, a message (or a post, an image) has a particular meaning. As what professor Irvine says, the meaning is not “in” the sign system, it is the system. (Irvine)

In addition, how receivers interpret the message he or she receives determines whether an information is successfully transmitted, not only technologically. Thus, senders and receivers are required to own shared knowledge and understanding of the connection between human sign and symbol structures with physical forms. For instance, in online chatting among Chinese young generation, a smiling face always does not mean a “smile”, happy, or other positive emotions. It is usually used to express one’s impatience or ironic thoughts. However, elder people always tend to think it as a real “smile”. At this time, the information is not successfully transmitted, despite the simile face can be seen by senders and receivers.

Nowadays, we experience computer-mediated communication every day. In computer-based context, a communication system can be considered to be accomplished by encoders, channels, and decoders. Also, the metaphors of “encoding” and “decoding” imply that a coding process puts something “in” signal units which are then taken “out”. (Irvine) Two levels of encoding and decoding exist in this process. From the technological level, the text is encoded and transmitted in form of bytes (or data) and decoded or interpreted by software to display on the screen. From meaning transmission level, senders connect their sign and symbolic structure to the texts and generate the meaning. Receivers interpret the texts to get the meaning.

Thus, only a combination of information theory and semiotics can be considered to truly “deliver a message”.



Martin Irvine, Introduction to the Technical Theory of Information

Peter Denning and Tim Bell, “The Information Paradox.” From American Scientist, 100, Nov-Dec. 2012.

Week 7-Reading Response

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This week’s readings are dense for me, especially the mathematical part of the information theory. But it is still a rewarding process for refreshing my original knowledge of “information”.

Imagine we have an idea in mind. There are multiple choices to express this idea: painting it on the wall, writing a song, sending a telegraph, posting it on Facebook, etc. They are different forms to express the same idea–the same information. Why are they the same? If we want to prove vapor and ice are essentially the same, we will probably list chemical elements they got and compare them. But information is different. It is commonly used so metaphorically or so abstractly in daily life that few of us can tell its exact meaning under a technical context. Are there any fundamental “particles” of all forms of communication? Can we measure information scientifically?  Those are something magic that Shannon shows us in Information theory, in which he applies mathematical formulas to strictly measuring the amount of information, reflecting the statistical nature of information expression. Similar to measuring the mass of different objects. No matter it is water, rock or human body, we can use a standard measure such as kilograms to measure it and make comparison accurately. What Shannon did allows us to precisely measure and compare information using a measurement called “entropy”. With this information scale, we intuitively know that some hieroglyphics on the wall has the same information with a page in an unknown book, a piece of music and some unreadable codes since they all contain the same number of bits. Every bit is linked to a simple idea of answering yes or no questions to measure average uncertainty, which is entropy(?), as well as the most powerful invention of human history — language/sign and symbol system.

For the transmission model, as clearly shown in Shannon’s original diagram, there are six basic elements: an information source which produces a message, a transmitter which encodes the message into signals, a channel through which signals are adapted for transmission, a receiver which reconstruct the message from the signal, a destination where the message arrives, and a dysfunctional factor–noise, which might interfere the travel of message along the channel. In conversation, one’s mouth would be the transmitter. The signal would be the sound waves. And the other one’s ears are the receivers. The noise might come from others’ distractions. For telephone, the channel is a wire, the signal is an electrical current. The transmitter and receiver are the telephone handsets. The noise might include the static or crackling from the wire. As for the mobile phone in my hand, it converts my voice into electrical signals, which is further then transmitted as radio waves and converted back into sound by my friend’s phone. Parallel to Lasswell’s model of communication–“who says what in which channel to whom with what effect?”, this transmission model vividly depicts a commonsense understanding of what communication is.

“This model provides an essential abstraction layer in the designs of all electronic and digital systems. It does not provide an extensible model for the larger sense of communication and meaning systems that all our post-digital symbolic-cognitive technologies allow us to implement”. The transmission model has strengths in its simplicity, generality, and quantifiability, yet followed by weakness in its misrepresentation of the nature of human communication. First, it is a highly mechanistic model that based on “conduit” and “container” metaphors. In those metaphors, the communicator put ideas into words, which are containers in this sense, and send them to others who take the idea out of those words. This process is quite like transporting goods. But thoughts and feelings are not real “objects” or goods and language cannot function exactly like a conduit since language could be interpreted to different meanings. The whole process of communication is based on biased assumptions regarding language in this theory. If this view of language is correct, learning something new will be not that hard since knowledge will be absorbed accurately and cost no effort. Also, the model is linear while communication is not one-way. The receiver might have feedback and further influence communication. Further, this model assumes that communicators are isolated individual communicators with the same social roles and power. Yet in reality, communication is a shared social system, and components in it are social beings with different roles, which means not all meanings possess equal value. For instance, if my friends ask me how I feel about the recent study, I am more likely to answer in a somewhat different way from the way I might answer the same question from my professor. Overall, this transmission model assumes communicators are isolated individuals, with no allowance for differing purposes, alternative interpretations, unequal power relations, and situational contexts. All of those constraints make it insufficient for extending to models for meaning systems. As noted in the article, “the semiotic dimensions of information theory are always there, but formally bracket off from the operational focus of electrical engineering and computing data designs.”


Credits to:

Martin Irvine, Introduction to the Technical Theory of Information

Luciano Floridi, Information: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Peter Denning and Tim Bell, “The Information Paradox.” From American Scientist, 100, Nov-Dec. 2012.



Week 7 Essay

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Information flows through communication in our daily life, but we barely think deeply about how. As described in Shannon’s model, the transmission of information is the process of encoding and decoding data. Only if we understand the meaning contained in data, can we read information from the not yet meaningful data, as denoted “information – meaning = data”.

When we post some pictures with texts on Facebook, for instance, we upload the pictures and texts on the website, the website receives and encodes it as signals, data, then transmitted to other Facebook users. The “friends” of the producer of the information get access to these data, Facebook decodes the data and transmit it to the devices of those friends. People understand the information because we must share some of the common culture background, e.g. English or pictures. I do not need to learn how to understand the text messages I received or what other CCTer are posting – I just know, even if we come from different countries. Also, I think we can perceive the digital communication process as a black-box: we users only see the input and output – messages texted in and showed up on another device. The de-blackbox – the encoding and decoding process, and how does signals transmitted – are what engineers should concern with. At least we now comprehend the overall framework.

It is interesting to ponder the meaning of social media, as nowadays people get to know each other’s news by the posts on social media. If someone does not belong to my “digital friends”, it feels like our tie is weak that it might break up someday. I cannot agree more with Floridi’s statement that “we become mass-produced, anonymous entities among other anonymous entities, exposed to billions of other similar information organisms online. So we self-brand and re-appropriate ourselves in the infosphere by using blogs and Facebook entries, homepages, YouTube videos, and flickr albums.” It is true that when we share posts, we trade in part of our private information to public to brand ourselves. Are we really who we are as posted on social media? Probably not exactly the same. We just show what we want others to know while hide the unwanted information, which is a self-branding process. The exchange of information bonds “friends” together.

Back to the question, what is information? I would say information is another internalized technology that served as symbolic cognitive artefact.


Week 7

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In this week’s reading, Denning and Bell mentions about Shannon’s information theory, which focus on information transmitting. As Dennning and Bell states, that information can be transmitted without involving the meaning of the message, which, meaning of the message that these information formed are irrelevant. Shannon introduced a information system for information transmitting accurately, that “…encoding converts messages into signals, and decoding converts signals back into messages” with the help of a “codebook” to convert messages into signals and convert back into messages in this process (Denning and Bell).

With this model bear in mind, I’d like to use shard pictures as an example. The online shared pictures are formed by pixels. In the transmission process, it was the pixels who got sent through online channels, but then it decoded into a whole picture on the other side, instead of hard-understanding pixies or codes. Another good example would be radio. The radio are formed by all signals, which is the “code” in our scenario, then decoded at the receiver part, which are the listeners.

But, information on the other hand indeed is meaningful for us. According to Floridi, “‘Meaningful’ means that the data must comply with the meanings (semantics) of the chosen system, code or language in question (Floridi).” So use language as an example. The message,aka the sentence that formed the message that we send everyday, are formed by meaningless single characters. These has no meaning individual, but it is “meaningful” to us humans when they are combined and formed into sentences or articles. Going off to the examples I mentioned above, shared pictures, even it’s formed by pixies, are still visually meaningful to use; and the radio signals as well, we can hear and understand the information and message that carried by the signals, which that is meaningful to us too.

Peter Denning and Tim Bell, “The Information Paradox.” From American Scientist, 100, Nov-Dec. 2012.

Luciano Floridi, Information: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Weekly Writing for Week 7

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Banruo Xiao

Technology opponents criticize many times that our life is occupied by phone and computer. People send emails and search information online by computer, and we text to our friend and do a lot of fun things through smart phone. Almost nobody, except computer engineers, is really familiar with what computer and phone work behind the screen.

Basically, computer works in a way similar to what radio and telegram work, which is the transmission of signals. Shannon describes the process in his theory of information that information can be transmitted and received without depending on information’s meaning. For example, when I’m typing this blog post on laptop, the laptop does not have to understand what each word means to process it in system. No matter the action is typing, copying and pasting, the system can encode and decode the information accurately. Actually, according to Shannon, cited by Peter J. Denning and Tim Bell, the process of computation system is more like endless choices of yes or no. Each piece of information is transformed between input and output channel. There is nothing related to the actual meaning of the content.

Indeed, does information really contain meaning? We read text, see image and watch video to acquire information and understand them in the way we learn since our childhood. I’m a Chinese and can understand English. If someday somebody asks me to read a piece of paper in Russian, does the piece of reading really have meaning for me? No, the reading is just as same as a bunch of strange symbols with no meaning. Therefore, the content itself has no meaning. People give meaning to each word and each gesture to form a society. In this case, telegram, radio, phone and computer definitely can work without learning the meaning behind each symbol. All the information relies on people’s mind to interpret.

From computation system’s point of view, it has its own language, C-language, to talk and discuss. People do not understand the electronic signal does not mean that the signal has no meaning. The computation system knows the next step by receiving signal or processing code. In other word, the interaction between human and machine is connected by two parallel languages, and the computation system is more like an interpreter to let both side do their own work.

ICT Practised in People’s Daily Online

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Tianyi Zhao

Under the fourth Information Revolution, we are bitterly struggling in the era of information overload. It has been quite a long time as we take information theory and meanings—which have been deeply practiced and fused in our daily life through various mediums— for granted so that we sometimes underrate or even totally have no idea about their functions and potentials for improvements. Being coined for the first time by Claude E. Shannon in 1948, a communication system serves as the simplest kind of information system. This essay will briefly analyze People’s Daily Online, one of the largest comprehensive internet media sources in the world from China, by leveraging with Shannon’s communication system model and audience’s understanding of information as semantic content.

In his “A Mathematical Theory of Communication,” Shannon depicted a comprehensive communication model. Normally, there is always a draft version of news article from a journalist and then sent to the chief editor of newspaper for confirmation. The written text shown as sequences of letters or digitals can be regarded as message source. When being input to the website background programming and published online, the text is encoded, converting messages into signals and uploaded online. The channel used to transmit the signals from transmitter to receive should be the news website background operation platform based on Internet. After being transmitted in data packets and then interpreted in some kinds of website software, audience can easily get access to any articles on the website by clicking the hyperlinked headlines. It should be noted that the simple “click” action is not such simple, but it includes the process of decoding, converting signals back into messages. The following two pictures as below show the differences between before and after decoding. At last, we, the audience, are the destinations that the message is intended.

Figure 1. Before decoding (Source: view-source:

Figure 2. After decoding (Source:

Additionally, how readers deal with the information they receive as semantic content is also interesting and meaningful. Luciano Floridi discloses that there are two varieties—instructional and factual information—”when data are well formed and meaningful.” (Floridi 27) Based on news’ characters, it is obvious that news is a mix of instructional and factual information because media behaves as both a fact deliver and a tool for political propaganda and thoughts controlling, in which People’s Daily Online is an expert. When we browse this website online, there is no lack of negative news of the United States, such as gun shootings, discrimination against Chinese, drug trafficking, etc.. However, positive news in China exaggeratedly covers the entire website layout. On the one hand, the articles People’s Daily Online indeed state the facts, from either the USA or Mainland China, on the level of factual information. On the other hand, the standards of news selecting and presentation mode implicitly deliver the instructional information that Chinese people should not go to the USA for tourism, study or work for personal safety, and Mainland China is always the best place for living. So these are the two senses of semantic content readers can translate from the People’s Daily Online.


Works Cited

Irvine, Martin. “Introduction to the Technical Theory of Information.”

Shannon, C. (n.d.). A mathematical theory of communication. ACM SIGMOBILE Mobile Computing and Communications Review, 5(1), 3–55.

Floridi, Luciano. Information: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2010. 

Peter, and Tim Bell. “The Information Paradox.” American Scientist, 100, Nov-Dec. 2012. (2018)