As a communication major in college, I spent a significant amount of time studying the communication theories that other communication theorists had developed in the past, because apparently there isn’t much else you can do with a communication major.
Communication theory, I should explain, is a field of study that attempts to understand and define how good we can talk to each other.
And so communication theorists come up with models and write books with titles like (I am not making these up) “That’s Not What I Meant” and “You Just Don’t Understand,” which I imagine could spark a lively conversation between a scholarly patron and a very confused librarian.
Both of those books were written by Deborah Tannen, which is a name I remember from one of my communication theory classes.
Another thing I remember well from these classes is the Shannon-Weaver model of communication, which has come to be known as the mother of all models despite the fact that it was created by a pair of men.
The Shannon-Weaver model is made up of two people—representing both ends of a line of communication—with an arrow going from the sender’s mouth to the receiver’s mouth.
This represents the way that the communicative transaction is taking place, such as personally, over the phone or by smoke signal.
And then in the model, buzzing around both people, is an ominous-looking cloud of static, which is called noise.
Noise is an invisible bubble of particles that always surrounds two people trying to have a conversation. If you inhale too deeply, you can get noise in your lungs, which gets absorbed into your blood stream, flows to your ears and causes that awful buzzing sound you hear at night when the house is silent.
Noise is evil, since it is always attempting to thwart your efforts to communicate. And its intensity can fluctuate depending on the setting. It is especially bad when talking to your in-laws.
(Just kidding Mom and Dad Bishop!)
I bring this up only so you’ll understand the importance of my announcement, which I am making in this column despite having already used up most of my word count.
I, David Vogel, communication studies major, have developed my own communication theory: the Theory of Controlled Humiliation.
I’ve been working on this theory for a whole five minutes now.
Here’s what it is:
When we do something dumb, like trip up the steps, our first reaction is to look around to see if anyone else saw it. Then we act like nothing happened.
We prefer to keep our missteps secret because if someone found out, we then run the chance of being caught off-guard and publicly humiliated when that person later brings it up in front of a large group of people.
But if we beat our could-be humiliators to the punch, when people laugh it’s because we controlled the timing and the telling.
This is especially prevalent on social media, where we don’t have to face the reaction personally.
For example, I learned this morning on Facebook that one friend got a severe sunburn, another wiped out on wet cement, another locked his keys in the car, and another was told by her preschool-age child that she was, in more or less words, chubby.
Sure, these are all minor infractions on the ego. But the victims managed how they were brought to light. That is the Theory of Controlled Humiliation at work.
Now that this communication major has come up with his first theory, maybe it’s time for me to write a book. I’ll title it, “I Know You Think You Know What I Meant To Say, But I Wasn’t Saying It To You So What You Heard Me Say Was Not What I Meant.”