Category Archives: O Tempura, o Sushi

The Silence of the Clams

Silence is ambiguous. When I write to someone who simply doesn’t answer, it can mean that the intended recipient of the message ( 1) never received it in the first place (or got it but hit the delete key by mistake),  (2) was so baffled by my inquiry as to be incapable of answering it, (3) is sick, injured, cognitively impaired, or otherwise incapacitated from replying, or (4) is just being a boor who considers me and my inquiry to be beneath notice.

It was not always so, at least not among equals. Our burgeoning wealth of short communication media and its associated forms (the subject of Short Cuts; see our blog lets us share information with ease and with sometimes breathtaking speed, but has not evolved an epistemically sound framework allowing us to manage those technologies, which have thus exploded into something of a vacuum. To be sure, a century ago you could ignore a letter that arrived in the mail, but it was generally understood that failing to answer it was likely to have real-life consequences, if only to your reputation for reliability, and even an illiterate recipient was apt to be at pains to find someone who could read it and fashion some sort of reply. This understanding is not so self-evident today with our gamut of e-mail, texting devices, phone messages machines, and other communication technologies; like Hotspur, we can call spirits from the deep, but will they answer?

In short, no reply is not itself a minimalist reply, a communication by default; on the contrary, it is not really communication at all.