Interactive multimedia is a communication tool. It therefore seems reasonable to begin our quest for theory upon which to base investigations concerning the effectiveness of design and development decisions in the realm of communications theory. Communication encompasses a great deal of human (and animal) activity. Reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing images, and creating images are all acts of communication. There are as well many more subtle communication activities that may be conscious or unconscious, such as expression, gesture, “body language” and nonverbal sounds. The process of communication has been the subject of study for thousands of years, during which time the process has come to be appreciated with increasing complexity.
This essay will present a variety of definitions for “communication,” and then describe a few communication models that have been proposed over the years. The reader is challenged to examine the various models and determine to what extent each might help explain the special type of communication represented by multimedia titles, and to think about how we might develop a model of multimedia communication. Definitions
Although communication is ubiquitous, it appears nonetheless difficult to define. We see that different individuals define communication in different ways depending upon their interests. Ruben (1984) says that communication is any “information related behavior.” Dale (1969) says it is the “sharing of ideas and feelings in a mood of mutuality.” Other definitions emphasize the significance of symbols, as in Berelson and Steiner (1964): “The transmission of information, ideas, emotions and skills…by the use of symbols,” and Theodorson and Theodorson (1969): “the transmission of information, ideas, attitudes, or emotion from one person or group to another…primarily through symbols.”
Taken together, theses definitions hint at the general picture. They also illustrate the influence that an individual’s perspective may have on the way he or she approaches a problem. The source of the definitions work (variously) in psychology, sociology, philosophy and education. Their definitions are influenced by the aspect of human behavior of greatest interest to them. We will see similar influences in models of communication in the next section.
Models provide a simplified view of something to be studied. We choose those elements of interest and use the model to help us frame questions and predictions. The elements we include (or exclude) and the relationships between them that we represent will by necessity dictate the domain of inquiry. What we don’t see (or acknowledge) we cannot study.
One of the earliest recorded models is attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. Aristotle represented communication as might an orator who speaks to large
audiences. His model incorporates few elements.
Figure One: Aristotle’s Model of Communication
Figure Two: Laswell’s (1948) Model of Communication
Political scientist Harold Laswell, writing in 1948, posed the question, “Who says what in which channel with what effect?” (p. 117). His model includes considerations of a variety of factors being considered to determine the impact of a communication. Considering that the previous ten years had witnessed such speakers as Adolph Hitler and Winston Churchill communicating both live and over radio, it is not surprising that a more sophisticated model would appear, nor that a political scientist would deliver it. To illustrate the significance of each element of the model, try visualizing what effect some dynamic speaker would have if the medium were print, or what would happen if the audience didn’t speak the same language. A visualization of Laswell’s model appears in Figure Two.
Shannon and Weaver
Another viewpoint on communication is offered by Shannon and Weaver (1949). This model...
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