Stories Without Words: Silence. Pause. More Silence. A Change In Posture.
A film is described as cinematic when the story is told primarily through the visuals. The dialogue only fills in where it needs to, where the visuals can’t convey the message. It was watching Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai that brought these thoughts into the foreground. Much of the film unfolds in silence. All of the important narrative information is disclosed outside of the dialogue.
While there’s some controversy about what percentage of human-to-human communication is non-verbal, there is general agreement that it’s more than half. The numbers are as low as 60% and as high as 93%. What happens to our non-verbal communication when a human-to-human communication is routed through a medium? A written communique, a telephone call, the internet: each of these media have a different capacity to carry the non-verbal from one end to the other.
The study of human-computer interaction examines the relationship between humans and systems. More and more, our human-computer interaction is an example of computer-mediated communications between humans; or human-computer network-human interaction. When we design human-computer interactions we try to specify everything to the nth degree. We want the interaction to be clear and simple. The user should understand what’s happening and what’s not happening. The interaction is a contract purged of ambiguity and overtones. A change in the contract is generally disconcerting to users because it introduces ambiguity into the interaction. It’s not the same anymore; it’s different now.
In human-computer network-human interactions, it’s not the clarity that matters, it’s the fullness. If we chart the direction of network technologies, we can see a rapid movement toward capturing and transmitting the non-verbal. Real-time provides the context to transmit tone of voice, facial expression, hand gestures and body language. Even the most common forms of text on the Network are forms of speech— the letters describe sounds rather than words.
While the non-verbal can be as easily misinterpreted as the verbal, the more pieces of the picture that are transmitted, the more likely the communication will be understood. But not in the narrow sense of a contract, or machine understanding. But rather in the full sense of human understanding. While some think the deeper levels of human thought can only be accessed through long strings of text assembled into the form of a codex, humans will always gravitate toward communications media that broadcast on all channels.