Once, after a particularly complex lecture about symbols, a classmate raised her hand and asked why we were learning what we were learning. How, she wanted to know, is this useful?
My professor smiled and answered:
It’s not useful, it’s enlightening 🙂 #uoac
— Joy Knowles (@moviegirlsite) September 16, 2016
I admit, that even at the end of this course, I have the same question. That is not to say I didn’t learn. There was a lot of learning that went on. Learning about grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric. Learning about meaning, truth and power. About speech acts, algorithms, the printing press, social media, John Austin, publishing…the list is long and extensive as to what I learned in this class.
But how much of it is useful?
I must also admit that I find it difficult to translate some of this stuff into something that is practical and easy to present. I had a professor at Algonquin College that would often hold out his hand and say “See, see this great big pile of public relations in my hand?” when of course there was nothing to see. I feel like this course is much the same way. When I hold out my hand and ask, “See, see this great big pile of advanced theories of communications in my hand?” most people will shake their heads and say there is nothing to see.
What I cannot easily show in my “hand” is how this learning directly translates into something that is, for lack of a better word, physically useful. It’s a skill not easy for the eye to see. But it is all intellectually useful. I have a far greater and deeper understanding of my own capability to think and why I’m even able to categorize and ponder abstract things, such as this contemplative piece that I’m writing. I can explain to you in detail, with visual aids, about how to be persuasive. I can tell you some of John Austin’s theories about language. I can tell you that we are the only beings able to manipulate symbols. I can tell you that a language and a writing system are not the same things. The telling you what I know is not the problem. The problem is, how will this get me a job? Because isn’t the whole point of university to help us get jobs? Am I going to wow some interviewer by being able to impress them with my knowledge on the Trivium (Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric)?
Probably not, I doubt the topic will come up. However, the Trivium is a systematic method of critical thinking. And what job doesn’t need some sort of critical thinking? So by learning about the Trivium I am learning a new way of thinking which could enhance my creativity and problem solving. Maybe it will allow me to see in a way another person who has never experienced the Trivium cannot.
And all those numerous tweets that I published every week? Do you know what that taught me? How to be concise. Often, if you have the space to express yourself, you’ll take it and be long winded and say lots of stuff that’s unnecessary and be redundant and go on and on and on and on making no particular point at all but just filling up time and space this sure is a long sentence…until suddenly you have 270 characters of nothing.
But with limited space you learn to express what is important (61 characters).
I rewrote the above sentence five times to make it more concise. I deleted at least three words because they were unimportant and did not enhance the message. Big words and long winded does not equal better or more intellectual. Mostly it means you’re trying to sound smart when what you should be caring about is does your audience understand you? Did they receive your message and what meaning do they take from it?
If our communication does not follow the rules of grammar there can be no meaning TnowEkamtIesuaCEBesneS. Do you know why you couldn’t read that? Because I didn’t follow the rules of grammar and therefore it was meaningless. My message died before it had life.
But even when I say or write things properly, if our speech acts (see John Austin again) do not abide by social conventions they will not be successful. There are rules, abstract rules that no one really invented, but are still there.
So while I may not be able to show you this great big pile of advanced theories of communication in my hand, I can tell you that what I have learned is useful. I am sharper, more analytic, more thoughtful, more aware of the inner processes that happen before I say something, of how my speech falls within the social conventions that allows it to have an impact on my audience, whether that audience be my best friend, my Twitter following, or my boss.
It’s all building blocks. We could not have the culture we do without first having the morpheme which is the smallest unit of meaning which can’t be had without phonemes.
So here, here’s my big pile of advanced theories of communication…