Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Some thoughts on not understanding anything.

Not long ago, machines finally surpassed humans in their ability to understand natural language.

Humans understand about 93 out of 100 words they hear. I imagine when spouses fight, or your kids leaves her soggy swim suit on your expensive Kilim rug, human understanding of spoken language plummets. Likewise, when I talk to my contractor and show him a dripping faucet or a flickering ceiling lamp, he probably understands an average of about six words out of the hundred he hears.

The best example I can think of of limited comprehension is when you hear an inflight announcement. Usually the speaker speaks so fast, their words are so “rote” and the sound system is so bad that I’m left wondering if anyone can understand anything.

I often feel the same way about that mainstay of business today, the conference call. If, in fact, the human race endures for another thousand years, or even one-hundred, I wonder what archeologists will say about a culture that gathers people in rooms all over the globe to talk into a machine that muddles their speech, all in the name of communication.

Half the time, while you’re trying to listen or to get a point across, someone is typing with the fury of Mt. Vesuvius erupting. Half the call is spent on apologies of people interrupting or talking over someone or not understanding a pause.

So much of interpersonal communication is non-verbal. A smile, or frown. A silent laugh. A raised eyebrow.

We have all-but-eliminated these cues from our business lexicon.

We’ve replaced them with static, pings, rustling of papers, clacking of keys, and the incessant query, ‘who just joined.’

I guess a conference call is better than no verbal communication at all. But, I’ll admit to understanding about 20 words of 100—about 1/5th of what’s being said.

That’s all for now.

I have a call in five minutes.

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