Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gone awry

Carl Linnaeus classified organisms; Jann Arden corrals emotions into lyrics.

Ordering chaos is a very human compulsion and when we succeed (or think we do) we have an equally strong urge to share. We call it communication.

On my way to visit a friend with a broken hip recently, signs and arrows guided me through the labyrinth of hospital hallways until I came upon this notice:

For a fraction of a second I thought it was both informative and welcoming.

The problem with communication, though, is that the message doesn’t exist in solitary, meaningful splendor.

First of all there’s the sender, who composes the message and chooses a medium to transmit it. Does she use words? Are they written, spoken, or sung? On paper or YouTube?

Or does she use a picture? Is it moving or still? A painting or photograph?

All the while, the sender’s history colours how she or he composes that message.

The recipient has at least as much baggage and it affects how he or she perceives the message when it arrives.

While I stood outside Nuclear Medicine, grinning and taking the lens cap off my camera (and I realize that says a lot about me, although I'm not even going to guess what), the first person who came along was a man wearing green hospital scrubs. He spotted the camera and quickly struck a campy pose beside the sign before striding away. Then came a couple more employees who stopped politely until I smiled and waved them past, then they were gone.

The last person to notice me was a woman wearing street clothes and a staff ID tag.

“What are you taking a picture of?” she asked, turning to look.

Before I could answer, she said, “Oh, the wall.” She looked at me like I was maybe a little crazy (okay, I know what the camera told her), then walked away.

All five of us had the same visual cues, but we all got different messages. At least, I was the only one laughing.

While my companions-of-the-corridor saw a camera, a wall or a sign, this is what I noticed:

And much as I appreciate the cheery invitation, I suspect it's not what the senders intended.





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