Tag Archives: conversation

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Broadcasters and Receivers


 For any broadcaster, “dead air” is an embarrassing professional lapse. And so the goal is always to monopolize the channel. 

Modern electronic media began nearly 100 years ago with two clear reference points.  If you were issued a license, you could be a broadcaster. Your transmitter sent content along a channel in the region’s electromagnetic spectrum reserved exclusively for the station’s use. This is still true for local entities such as WABC-TV in New York or Philadelphia’s WXPN radio.  Commercial broadcasting began in the 1920s when Americans were eager to consume content sent into the “ether.” That pattern put us on a long path toward becoming involuntary spectators to the performances of others.

I keep coming back to this basic idea when I think of humans and their preferred communication styles.  Some—let’s say too many—prefer to be broadcasters. They are comfortable devising content they believe others need to hear.  They are “on” continuously and mostly without pause.  The disinhibitions of alcohol can make the pattern even worst. Others of us are receivers, often by choice, and sometimes because broadcasters rarely offer breaks that would allow sufficient time for the functions to reverse. You know the feeling if you are at a party and a 50,000-watt broadcaster crosses your path. They may see themselves as having a clear channel that must never go silent. For any broadcaster, “dead air” is an embarrassing professional lapse.

I confess to sometimes being a broadcaster.  In education it’s called lecturing. I am probably too certain that I have important things to say. But I understand that a good teacher must also hone their skill as a receiver. Unless you are accompanied by a 10-piece band and a juggler, one-way communication offers diminishing returns. Broadcasters frequently misread the patience of others as signs of their brilliance. They flourish from the goodwill of conscientious listeners.  Such listening is all the more remarkable since those doing it get few rewards for the courtesy of their interest.

Maybe you have escaped the experience so far, but the news that you will be spending time with a group of compulsive talkers may mean that the broadcasters among them will have already programmed the entire evening. Your efforts to jam their channel can easily fail, forcing a decision about how Soviet you want to be in disrupting their dominance.

There just aren’t many ways to silence these full-time transmitters, let alone turn them into effective receivers. The natural informality of conversation especially makes it hard to preserve an adjacent channel for weaker but worthwhile signals coming from others. Even so, there are at least a few desperate gambits that may momentarily knock a broadcaster off the air:

-Express amazement that they managed to arrive on two flat tires.

-Mention the contagious disease you can’t seem to kick.

-If it is their affair, ask them if the dining room chandelier always emits sparks and smoke when it is on.

-Tell the broadcaster his hair is on fire.


Resolutions for Better Communication

                                                            Denver Colorado’s Civic Center

It’s time for the annual ritual of making promises to ourselves about what we will change in the coming year.  In that spirit, consider a few resolutions that would make us and those we care about better communication partners. 

  • Resolve to be a better listener.

    Becoming an engaged listener is like losing weight: it’s harder than it sounds.  It requires momentarily giving ourselves over to what another is saying.  That must include minimizing other distractions, turning off the far too loquacious chatterbox camped out in our brains, and accepting the challenge of bringing our full attention to another. We can’t do this with everyone all the time.  Listening for nuance is work.  Start with the people that matter most.

  • Protect your soul by deciding to be a more thoughtful gatekeeper and information consumer.

    We allow a lot of worthless messages into our lives:  junk journalism, junk advertising, aimless web-browsing, mean-spirited trolls and the self-obsessed. As tech writer Farhad Manjoo noted last year in the New York Times, the Internet is “loud, shrill, reflexive and ugly.”  It “now seems to be on constant boil.”   So it takes far more personal discipline to keep this stuff at bay and to hold on to our social equilibrium.

    The key is to stay in the discursive world of long-form discourse as much as possible, spending time on articles rather than tweets, in-depth journalism instead of ‘news summaries,’ films in place of youtube videos.

  • Work to put a reasonable limit on the time your children spend with all kinds of screens.

    The American Pediatric Association recommends that children under two spend no time in front of screens.  They need more interactivity as they begin to grow.  Remember that “virtual reality” is a desert compared to the natural world.  Rediscover local parks or just the simple pleasures of a walk around the block.  With my own grandkids it’s been fun to relearn the truth that even young children are naturally weatherized.  Most love to be out and active even in the cold.

  • Resolve to save important feelings and information for face to face discussion.

    Proximity with others usually brings out the best in us.  Media that act as surrogates for ourselves (even misnamed “social” media) offer only selected approximations of the real deal.

  • Listen to more music.

    Because it’s almost exclusively the language of feeling, music unites us in ways that ordinary rhetoric can’t.  A friend reports that Mozart has been a nice escape from the numbing effects of recent political news.

  • Help seniors take a break from television news.

    We have convincing research that many older Americans succumb to a deep and unhealthy pessimism fed by too much news and mayhem. Television is often how they pass the time, especially if they live in a facility.  Do what you can to show them the more normal world outside their door.

  • Don’t believe everything you read.

    Apply some healthy skepticism to both real news stories, as well as the paid “clickbait” stories that are often nearby.  In 2016 has shown us anything, it’s that too many Americans form attitudes from conjecture and misinformation, often from low-credibility sources.

  • With the possible exception of those strange relatives up in Duluth, resist dividing the world into “us” and “them.”

    We may think in simple binaries.  But In the end, the complexities of individual lives will always deal the deck that we and others have to play.  Even after this brutal presidential election we need to find the intellectual honesty to acknowledge the inadequacies of our labels.

                    Happy Holidays!