Miscommunitexting and how we find meaning in information

Victoria Gomes-Boronat

We have grown up in a time where communicating is both easier and harder than before. What do I mean? Well, with a few taps on a phone you are able to communicate with people halfway around the world. Through digital technology such as text messaging systems, we are afforded the ability to communicate with people anytime, anywhere. So why has it also made communication more difficult? When doing this week’s reading I couldn’t help to think about my (undergraduate) freshman year communications course. In the course, we discussed the concept of “miscommunitexting”. Miscommunitexting is when the intention or meaning of the informant’s text is misinterpreted by the informee due to overanalysis, different languages/symbolic systems, culture, generational differences, etc.  Miscommunitexting is possible/common because, as Irvine explains, “meanings, values, and interpretations are not physical properties of a symbolic medium (in this case, the text message); they are inferences and correlations made by agents (the informant and informee) in symbol-using communities,” (p. 13).

It is important to note that the “information” sent in the communication system does not refer to what we know as meaning or content, rather it consists of the bits that create representations of data i.e. numbers, letters & words, graphics patterns, etc and operations i.e actions. According to Shannon’s Information Transmission Model, a source sends a message -> an encoder generates a signal for the message; a channel stores and and carries the signal; a decoder converts the signal back into a message; the receiver receives the message, (Denning & Bell, 2012). The meaning is then interpreted by the agent reading the message (the symbols displayed on the screen).

The way we interpret the message depends on our language, culture, and symbol systems.  For example, my father is Spanish and my mother is Argentinian- although they share a language, there are some cultural differences in semantics. In Spain, there is a word that means swim cap, the same word in Argentina is understood as a female body part. The semantic differences due to culture could cause miscommunitexting seeing as the meaning would not be communicated, rather, the receiving agent would interpret the word with their own meaning. Ethnic culture is not the only factor in the way we interpret messages, the generation you are a part of, the interests you have, and your personality are all contributors to the way we interpret information.

I think that to a certain extent, people of a certain generation share the same understanding of texting language/etiquette. Most American Millenials/gen zers could probably tell you the difference between, “hey” & “hiii”, “okay” & “ok”, “I love you” & “Love ya”, while older generations might have more trouble discerning the differences in their semantics.

Then you must also take into account the personality and interests of the agents on each side. For example, one of my friends is the shortest texter. He will send one-worded responses all of the time. If he were a stranger, I’d be inclined to interpret his responses as disinterest or anger, however, knowing his personality, I know that’s not the case. He loves to draw and do hands-on activities in his free time so he prefers calls over texts- that way he can work on his drawings while also talking. I only knew the true meaning behind his short, straight-forward messages once I got to know him. On the other hand, if I have a friend who usually sends frequent, long, thoughtful texts and when she breaks her usual pattern and starts to send curt, infrequent messages, that signals to me that there may be a deeper meaning, for example, she may be extremely busy, upset at me, going through a hard time, etc. The message or information sent through the communication channel and decoded by the phone did not tell me this, but I used my knowledge of how she normally acts to interpret these meanings.

 

References

Denning, P. J., & Bell, T. (2012). The information paradox. American Scientist100(November – December), 470-477.

Irvine, M. (n.d.). Introducing information and communication theory: The context of electrical signals engineering and digital encoding. Unpublished manuscript.

Luciano, F. (2010). Information: A very short introduction. Oxford University Press.