Communication and the Human Condition

Communication and the Human Condition

Communication and the Human Condition

Communication and the Human Condition


Starting with the premise that we live in communication (rather than standing outside communication and using it for secondary purposes), Pearce claims that people who live in various cultures and historical epochs not only communicate differently but experience different ways of being human because they communicate differently.

This century, he notes, ushered in the "communication revolution," the discovery that communication is far more important and central to the human condition than ever before realized. Essential to the communication revolution is the recognition that multiple forms of discourse exist in contemporary human society. Further, these forms of discourse are not benign; they comprise alternative ways of being human.

Thus communication theory must encompass all that it "means to live a life, the shape of social institutions and cultural traditions, the pragmatics of social action, and the poetics of social order."


Future historians who record what is being said and done today will find it difficult to avoid giving a prominent place to our preoccupation with communication

Richard McKeon, Communication, Truth and Society

It seems a bit presumptuous to speak of the "discovery" of communication. Human beings have always communicated, and have always known that they were communicating. However, the extent to which our contemporaries talk about communication is unprecedented, as is the amount of importance they attribute to it.

There is considerable talk of a "communication revolution" borne by successive waves of technological innovations each of which alters the capacity for society to inform, amuse, and persuade itself. Some analysts greet this revolution ecstatically; the musings of others are tinged with a disquieting sense that something is being done to us that we do not fully understand and of which we may not approve. "The realm of communications...has undergone...a series of revolutions...already more than a century old, the end of which is yet beyond our vision or prevision" (Matson and Montagu, 1967, p. 1).

More importantly, there is a revolutionary discovery that communication is, and always has been, far more central to whatever it means to be a human being than had ever before been supposed. Prior to this century, no major analysis of international relations explained inequitable standards of life or power as the result of a particular pattern of communication between nations, but this is a common theme today. No major analysis of the form of government focused on the media and channels of communication, but this is a common orientation today. No interpretation of the pathologies of individuals or families cited patterns of communication as the causes of problems or the means of their solution, but this is a unifying concept in half a dozen disciplines today. Philosophers in all cultures and in all ages have wrestled with apparently insolvable problems of ethics, esthetics, and cosmology, but only in this century did many of them become convinced that these were problems of language rather than of the nature of reality itself. Some social scientists claim that "the world" exists in communication; that the apparently stable event/objects of the social world -- from economic systems to personality traits to "dinner with friends" -- are collectively constructed in patterns of conversations; and that the "solution" to (some? most? all?) problems consists in changing the conversations we have about them.

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