Conversational Layers

I have been running some in-home discussion groups for a design project recently. The ebb and flow of context is just so interesting to me and highlights the challenges of getting “all” the information.

[none of this is verbatim]

Q: If you and your wife own one iPod, how do you determine who is going to use it?
A: Well, for commuting, it’s either the iPod, or the New Yorker.

Two scenarios are likely:
1. She takes the iPod on the train and he drives their lovely car, a New Yorker.
2. Whoever takes the iPod gets music, and the spouse gets to read the most recent issue of the New Yorker magazine.

There’s always the clarification question: “When you say ‘New Yorker’ are you referring to the car or the magazine?” but in this case, we didn’t get to ask that, and I was confused at the time. It’s clearer looking at the video that they are talking about the magazine.

Later on, the same guy (still talking about iPods) tells us “Well, when you do that, it looks more Zen. It actually looks like the competition.” and moments later another participant adds “Yes, it’s like he says, very Zen, very Japanese, very spiritual.”

But that’s not at all what he meant. He meant another type of MP3 player, the Creative Zen.
I understood what he meant, at the moment, but the other person, didn’t. And it wasn’t possible in the flow of things to clarify (and maybe not even necessary).

I have powerful memories of being in Mr. Collison’s grade 6 class, and seeing him do this sort of thing all the time – missing a word or a piece of context of what someone said and riffing on it, in entirely the wrong direction. It really made me squirm in my seat to see all this miscommunication around me and have to keep quiet, or at best, wait to offer my insight. I wonder if other people notice this stuff and are as stimulated/aggravated/curious as I am?


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