I once stumbled into a job interview late because I’d had a flat tire. I was fuzzy headed and in pain because I also had a migraine. I knew this wasn’t going to be a good day, and the interviewer was about to come up to speed. We went along with the usual questions, and somewhere in there one of my answers was, “I’m not always the sharpest tool in the shed, but I …” At least that is what I intended to say. Instead something came out that I’d never in my life thought or heard.
“I’m not the highest bird in the tree” dropped into a pool of silence that I broke by asking in a puzzled voice, “What in the heck did I just say?” I knew all was lost when he responded with, “Yeeeeeaaaah. Cuz birds are so smart.” I left shortly thereafter, took some drugs and went to bed.
In the subsequent years, I’ve had many occasions to thank the heavens that I no longer have migraines, and I’ve often thought about that interview — generally at cocktail parties where everyone laughs uproariously at the story. The interesting thing is that the interviewer clearly understood my meaning, though he chose to see the unfamiliar phrasing as an indication of my incompetence. Would he have reacted the same way if I’d continued on with confidence instead of confusion? Communication, meaning and understanding are complex issues that all people have difficulty with.
As a lifelong writer, reader, and analyst, I remain fascinated with how we communicate with one another — even when we fail spectacularly at doing so — and I have become involved with helping computers understand us. I intend for this blog to be an exploration of all forms of human communication, including how we use computers to tell us things we can’t find ourselves.