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close this book GATE - 3/85 - Communication
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A communication can only be successful to the extent to which a whole series of coding, transmission, and interpretation tasks are completed by those involved in the communication process. What the communicator wants to communicate must be transformed into a communicable system of symbols. As far as the symbols are concerned, it must be possible to transform them into physical signals which can be perceived by the recipient's sensory organs, e. 9., sounds or images. And - a very important point the recipient must be able to decode the symbols he receives and determine their meaning.

A precondition of this is that the communicator and the recipient must be familiar with sets of symbols that are as far as possible identical, e.g., they must speak the same language or have the same cultural background; and there must be a large measure of agreement in their interpretation of the symbols. The fact that difficulties in communication (i. e., misunderstandings) nevertheless occur continually is something which, sadly, we probably all experience daily.

Communication must be as old as life itself: this is a truism, of course, but it makes it clear that our life is unthinkable without communication. And if we substitute the term 'information' for communication, we probably get closer to the bottom of the business. We gather information about our environment and ourselves, and communicate this information to others. Music, dance, mimicry, gestures, speech, drums, smoke signals, drawings, and last but not least writing enable us to tell others about ourselves. And it is writing which has enabled us to pass on information to a wider audience, for hundreds, even thousands of years.

The fact that men have repeatedly found ways of using speech and writing to create different classes may be mentioned in passing. Even today, millions of people, particularly in the Third World, are at a disadvantage simply because they cannot read or write.

When Gutenberg invented printing with movable letters in the 15th century - a method which was used almost unaltered until well into the 20th century, the way was clear for changes which, in Europe for example, finally led us out of the Middle Ages. The way was also clear for the development of the press, which often spoke for oppressed peoples in conflict situations. We also know that for centuries now, those in power have repeatedly tried to muzzle the press and limit press freedom, to suppress it. Yet even today there are many countries where freedom of the press is still only a dream.

In our century there has been a wealth of breathtaking innovations in communications technology. The telephone has come to stay, as have radio and film. Communications has become the domain of electronics and now satellites help to transmit news and information from continent to continent in split seconds. Satellites also enable us to monitor and forecast weather conditions; they can be used to estimate harvests, to find natural resources, and even to determine and map the extent of environmental damage.

Quite often we get the feeling that we are drowning in the flood of information that engulfs us every day. Sometimes this is rather discouraging, though it need not be.

Three of the articles in this issue deal with exchange of experience and information and the evaluation of information, in this case printed information or, more accurately, AT journals. Two other contributions consider the problem of how traditional and modern communication can be combined to ensure that the message one wants to convey gets to the recipient in exactly the way it is meant. Yet another article deals with structural changes in radio, and in particular in Africa. Here we are experiencing the cautious beginnings of decentralization, to the benefit of audiences which can more readily identify with "their" local radio station which takes up their problems, than with a "government radio station" transmitting from the capital. And it is certainly not overstating the case if we say that AT is a major component of all these articles, whether it be mentioned explicitly or merely present in the background. Admittedly all these are only tiny fragments of a much larger whole, but they can help to transmit practical knowledge about communication acquired by others. And this may stimulate one or the other of us to reflect on his own experience in this sector.