Writing on the wall…Who cares?

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writing on bathroom wall


Most of us have seen plenty of these or similar. A message from Johnny or Stacy leaving his or her trace behind for future generations of bar and bathroom goers. I’m sometimes tempted to respond with a crude and rude – Who cares?! Not that I don’t care about the Johnny’s or Stacy’s sign of existence left on a bar counter or bathroom stall, but if one goes through trouble of engraving his message in a public place, could he strive for it to have more use and meaning? How about an Enigma code deciphering secret or an advice on how to mark nuclear waste for distant generation to recognize it is lethal? And if I were, indeed, respond to such writing, would I be entering the realm of interactive communication?…

This is one of the venues through which we enter this mind quest for gaining understanding of what Interactive and Interpersonal Communication are. The trenches of this battle are by no means clearly defined, but that’s perhaps the main reason this field of study seems so exciting.  For the sake of this argument I’m proposing that Interpersonal Communication is always interactive, but Interactive Communication is not always interpersonal.

JUST A LITTLE HUMAN TOUCH     Human Touch by Bruce Springsteen

A hand shake. A smile. An eye contact. Olfaction. These are just a few aspects of non-verbal communication that are essential in order for us to establish and interpret meaning in the conventional face to face act of Interpersonal Communication. Maybe it’s a residual effect of the acting classes I took as an undergrad or maybe it has to do with being a father of two, but I think I can detect a lot of  information simply by paying attention to other person’s non-verbal communication. When my son enters the house after playing outside, he doesn’t have to tell me that something out of ordinary (either pleasant or unpleasant) has taken place. I can read it on his face before he is even ready to tell me – I think most parents can.

These intricacies are unfortunately gone from the act of Interactive Communication as we know it today (via the Internet and all the portable devices that rely on its vast networks). Yes, we can link our web cams and our microphones to confer on Skype. But I probably won’t notice that you are discretely peeking at the clock behind your webcam and I won’t detect that you are in a hurry and you don’t want to end our conference out of simple politeness. In a face to face interaction, I would definitely pick up all those signals.

Two years ago I attended Dave Chapelle’s stand up comedy show. About half way through the show a heckler began to yell absurd comments and less absurd questions (this was shortly after Chapelle’s rather unpleasant departure from Comedy Central). At first security began to remove the heckler, but Dave intervened, asked security to let heckler stay, then proceeded to respond to heckler’s questions, turning it into a funny, but at the same time honest bit. In my mind it was a rare, but  perfect example of both interactive and interpersonal communication. Regardless of how many Dave Chapelle’s bits I might’ve watched online, or how many blogs he might’ve responded to, that act of communication, due to its spontaneous nature, was an experience that could never be attained through any web based interactive media.


Maybe not just yet, since most the web following is still network based. But one could argue that Internet is in fact a mass medium and if one posts a message (whatever media format it may be) on the web, one indeed engages in a act of Mass Communication.  This communication that once was strictly reserved for the elite three – print, radio and TV can be easily performed from a comfort of a living room with an aid of a computer.  Of course, the difficult trick is to generate interest and to develop a following. After all, a message posted but viewed by no one has no impact and cannot be considered a communication. Here is where the traditional mass media still have advantage, but the tides are shifting.

Hence, the presence of mass medium enables one to communicate with many simultaneously and hence today’s information technology enables us to interact quickly I would also argue that Interactive Communication is a hybrid of a Mass Communication and Interpersonal Communication. It employs characteristics of both, but it’s not truly either one.


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