Transmission and Ritual in Culture

Transmission and ritual in culture


Transmission and ritual are two metaphors we associate with communication. Mostly unconsciously.  

We might be moving messages across space or we might be producing a shared world and affirm common values. 

Transmission and ritual are both part of the origin story of communication. 

Transmission is the most common in all industrial cultures. It's communication with the intent to impart, send, or give information to others. Its metaphor is geography and transportation. 

We transport goods and we transport information. This view of communication comes from one of the oldest dreams of humanity: to increase the speed and effect of messages as they travel in space. The motives were political and mercantile, but the origin was religious. 

Science and technology took over the religious undertones and keep the transmission metaphor. 

Though the ritual view of communication is a minor thread, it's the older of the two. Ritual communication links to terms like sharing, participation, association, fellowship, and the possession of a common faith. 

This definition exploits the ancient identity and common roots of commonness, communion, community, and yes, communication. The tragedy of the commons, is a breakdown of the ritual view. 

Ritual is not about extension of messages in space, but about the maintenance of society; not the art of imparting information, but the representation of shared beliefs. 

Companies and relationships that are focused on transmission care a lot about spreading their message. About competitiveness. About getting “more.”

Companies that are focused on rituals care a lot about how connected we are in here. About culture. And about what we can create together.

You can build relationships on transmission or on ritual.
And you can run a company that way as well. 

Transmission communication wants more transmission. The archetypal case is extension of messages for the purpose of control. The danger is external and outwardly projection, rhetoric, and little reflection. 

Ritual communication wants more participation. The archetypal case is the sacred ceremony that draws people together in fellowship and community. The danger is that it provides not information, but confirmation. 

American culture focused on transmission. But the notion of culture in the U.S. is not hard-edged; psychological life is paramount. Other cultures, like Italian, are more ritual in the anthropological sense. Science and culture in those countries are in conversation with each other. Including human activity associated with work.

Social media and technology reflect an American view of communication as transmission. Our challenge is to mitigate the utilitarian and pragmatic view of sending when we'd love to have some fellowship. 


, ,