Messages and channels are the vehicles by which information is communicated. As noted by many writers on communication, human beings are unique in their ability to use “symbolic” forms of communication –primarily the written or spoken language- to transmit information. Some messages are direct expressions of meaning –I lean over the table and grab the pencil that I want- while others are “symbolic representations” –I ask the person seated across the table, “Please pass me the pencil.” The more we are prone to use symbolic communication, the more likely that symbols may not accurately communicate the meaning we intend. In the simplest example, if the person does not understand English, or if there are several pencils on the table, there is increased likelihood that the communication will be less than effective.
Channels are the vehicles by which messages are carried. If we speak directly, it is the airwaves; if we write, it is the paper and pen or type-writer; if we talk over the telephone, it is the telephone circuitry and microwaves. Both messages and channels are prone to disortion from “noise,” which we will use as a broad descriptive category of various forms of interference in the communication process. Messages can be transmitted more clearly in a quiet room than in a loud, distracting hotel ballroom. The greater the sources of distraction and confusion in the communication environment, the more that “noise” will interfere with accurate and complete message transmission.