posted Jun 13, 2003
in Communication Ethics

Communication Ethics book part for The Model. (This is an automatically generated summary to avoid having huge posts on this page. Click through to read this post.)

For this model, I take my cue from the Internet and the computer revolution itself, because it is a superset of almost everything else. Telecommunication engineers and other people who deal with the technical aspects of communication have created a very common model of communication that has six components, which are a sender, an encoder, a medium, a decoder, a receiver, and a message, as in figure 10.

Standard Communication Model

The parts of this model are as follows:

As a technical model this is fairly powerful and useful for thinking about networks and such. However, since the model is for technical people for technical purposes, it turns out that it's actually excessively complicated for our purposes of modeling communication for the purpose of ethics.

We can collapse the encoder and decoder into the medium, because we never care about the details of the encoder or decoder in particular; it is sufficient for our purposes to consider changes to the encoder or decoder to be essentially the same as changes to the medium.

That leaves us four basic components.

Simplified Communication Model

The base unit of this model can be called a connection.

If there is an identifiable sender, receiver, and medium, they define a connection along which a message can flow. When the sender sends a message, the medium transmits it, and the receiver receive the message.

Note that until the message is sent and recieved the medium may not literally exist; for instance, your phone right now theoretically connects to every other phone on the public network in the world. However, until you dial a number or recieve a call, none of the connections are "real".

A connection is always unidirectional in this model. If communication flows in both directions, that should be represented as two connections, one for each direction.

To send a message across the connection, a connection is initiated by a sender, and the receiver must desire to receive it, excepting sound-based messages which due to a weakness in our physical design can be forced upon a reciever. Either can occur independently; a receiver may be willing to receive a message, but the sender may not send it until they are compensated to their satisfaction. A sender may wish to send a message, but no receiver may be interested in receiving it.

For a given message from a sender to receiver, the "medium" is the everything the message traverses, no matter what that is. If the phone system offloads to an Internet connection to transmit the message part of the way, and the Internet connection is then converted back to voice on the other end, the entire voice path is the medium. It may sometimes be useful to determine exactly where something occurred, but except for determining who is "to blame" for something, all that really matters are the characteristics of the medium as a whole.


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