Books … Common Slang … TV = Culture?

Yesterday I was in a meeting for about an hour regarding launching a new product. While this product is very much needed, it has been a very difficult prolonged project with over 3000 man hours (and counting) spread over the last year. Specifications keep changing, and we have to write the program to allow for data corruption in the core software. This project was original supposed to be 500 hours or less. One of the people on this product with me, Bill, is very well read. So all day long when we are working on something, we use the context of books, plays, poetry, and sometimes even music to convey a deeper meaning without having to explain it or saying it explicitly.

Now, this project has been in field test for about 6 months and the product is working great, but there are all these little quirks because of all the allowances for bad data. Every little part of the project balloons into some huge monster. So I needed a little setup tool, should have taken around 10 hours or programming. Now it is over 300 hours, multiple people, and a project manager. So I am sitting in this meeting, as yet another part of the installation process is ballooning in our faces, and I say “It goes not go gently into that good night”. Out of everyone in the room, only myself and Bill understood the reference to the poem “Do not go Gently into that Good Night” by Dylan Thomas. We both cracked up and everyone just looked at us.

The poem is usually considered to be about a son telling his father to fight against death as supposed to just accepting and dying. My reference to it was saying that no matter how much we try to wrap this project up, it is fighting us. In just a couple words, I expressed how troublesome this project really has been… but it was lost on almost everyone. I find this to be an excellent way to communicate because it says so much without having to say much at all. However, the caveat is that the other people have to understand and extrapolate the situation or text you are referencing the same way you do.

In The Next Generation, the Enterprise has a run in with a species that only speaks by quoting stories from their heroes. The problem is, Picard does not know their stories so it is very difficult to understand them. The classic example is one Troy gives when trying to explain their communication system. She says “Juliet on her balcony”. Anyone who has been through high school in the USA would most likely recognize this as a reference to Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” when Juliet and is on her balcony and Romeo comes. It is often thought of as a great love scene. Troy continues to explain that even if you could understand the words, if you don’t understand the meaning, then you really don’t understand at all because what the person talking about really has nothing to do with a balcony but everything to do with star-crossed lovers and love.

I started watching for this in everyday life. It is amazing how much of our culture and understanding is based on TV. Now, I am not a big TV watcher so most of these references go right over my head like Dylan Tomas to people in the meeting. This becomes even more apparent with humor and politics. If you have never heard of office cubes, and big company politics, Dilbert humor would be lost on you. If you don’t know about current events, then the Daily Show, many late night talk shows, and quite a few comic strips would not make any sense.

When I started observing this, I realized I missed a lot of references simply because I don’t follow politics much and I don’t watch much TV just like people who don’t read a lot miss a lot my subtle deeper meanings.

What does this have to do with culture? By becoming more aware of how people communicate, I became more aware of what people were really saying. We only have one way to communicate and that is language. We use spoken languages, written, and body language. We communicate because we all agree on what a specific word or body action means. In the USA we agree a nod = yes and a shake of the head = no. We know this, because as a society, we have agreed on this. Bill and I agreed on the meaning of going gently into that good night simply because we both knew the poem.

We even try to do this cyberly. We say things like LOL, ROTFLMAO, and brb to tell people we are amused or laughing or we wont be paying attention for moment. Cyber space even has all different faces like :) to convey emotion because you can’t see their body language.

Why is this important? There are hidden meanings everywhere. Inside jokes, inside looks, subtle body actions, words, and more is all part of communicating. When we take away a smile from a statement the joke might be lost. When we take the context away from words, the meaning is lost. There are so many aspects of communication that it is easy to not really grasp what the other person is truly saying. If someone said to you Juliet on her balcony, you would have no idea that they really were talking about love and not about a girl on her balcony hence the speaker thought he got his point across and the listener thought she understood. So if you have a choice as to how to interpret something, chose the empowering positive way.

Adrienne :)

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4 Responses to “Books … Common Slang … TV = Culture?”

  1. Jason says:

    I love this article, Adrienne. It’s the best I’ve ever read from you, and the best I’ve read in the last little while. Congratulations, and I hope it really takes off, because I think a lot of people should be reading it.

    I might even write my own article about it… if I do, I’ll give you a link.

  2. ioni says:

    Oh well,
    I suppose the best way of communication then would be making every sentence a quotable statement – like people with clean houses lead boring lives

  3. Adrienne says:

    Thanks Jason. If you get me know, i can post here here are a trackback.

    Yes and no. What i was trying to get across is sometimes you think you know someones intent behind there words, and you really have no idea. Sometimes a statement is just a statement. And if there is a question in the intent, chose the more powerful one not the one that makes you mad.

    Adrienne :)

  4. Marti in Mexicome says:

    Wonderful article. We can so often talk at cross purposes because of a lack of a mutual reference of all parties involved. These references are cultural, age-related, profession -related.

    Commonality is the glue that holds communication together. So it is necessary to find that common ground, sometimes a daunting task! That’s why I, an over-60s something person, compulsively surf the net, to keep connected to the current cultures. Actually, to the many current cultures, ie. geek, internet, popular, music, science.


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