What Happens Between Messages

by Denise Solomon

Head & Liberal Arts Research Professor
Dept. of Communication Arts & Sciences

On the second day of CAS 203 I have for several years used this image to introduce the dynamics of interpersonal communication. The image has been an effective and often humorous way to make the point that, while communication involves overt messages, just as important is what happens between messages—in the inferences we make that tie overt messages together. Rhetoricians might call these inferences enthymemes. In any case, this semester, when I used the image again, I immediately regretted it.

So in the third class meeting I expanded on the point and added that the inferences we draw upon come, in part, from our collective conscious, from recent experience, and from culturally salient meaning. I admitted that I was unsettled by the slide in the previous class: In a year of so much gun violence, it wasn’t funny anymore. I apologized for not seeing that sooner. Students appreciated my apology, I think, and they also gained insight into how meanings change as a function of changes in our collective experience.