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REVIEW: Communicating: The Multiple Modes of Human Interconnection

Finnegan, R. (2002) Communicating: The Multiple Modes of Human Interconnection. New York: Routledge

Finnegan’s text examines the ways in which humans send and receive messages. Finnegan called these methods, modes, and explains that these modes follow human senses. The text thoroughly explains these modes, as well as the codes used to send messages through these modes.

In her first chapter, Finnegan offers an exhaustive definition of human communication. At one point, she employs 16 constructs that other scholars use to explain the term in their research, ranging from psychology to anthropology. In sum, these definitions, as well as Finnegan’s analysis, call for communication to involve verbal and nonverbal cues, sometimes referenced as signs or codes, a sender and a receiver (also known as speaker and audience), and some level of interaction between the two groups (or among them, if more than two).

In Chapter 2, Finnegan turns toward the ways in which humans communicate, focusing specifically on the visual codes of messages in non-verbal communication. She makes the point that no non-verbal medium has the ability to send a message on its own, but that messages are derived from the codes assigned to the message. This is a key point, here, and goes back to Saussure’s idea of semiotics, and the expanded definition of the idea, that says codes vary based on cultures. She concludes with the obvious but necessary statement that humans prefer to communicate through audio-visual means, while other animals do not, and says that humans are biologically equipped to do so. While she has a good point here, I can think of one immediately tactile means of communication, and that is the vibrating mobile telephone (while this is technically machine to human communication, it takes another human to prompt said buzz). While humans primarily communicate with audio-visual messages, tactile messages have their place in human communication as well, especially as touch screen technology is engaging touch sensations in communication. Even so, all these messages are functionally code, and humans must be able to decode the message to be able to use it as valuable communications. Now, for the realm of mass communication, and in our case, mass visual communications, the implication here is that the mass audience not only must have the knowledge to decode the messages contained in the media, but also that the mass audience must have a similar, if not identical, understanding of the codes used in the media. Therefore, mass communication requires a mass society, or a mass culture, and the message’s author must understand the audience so that the message can be coded and then decoded properly.

The second part of the book focuses on the multiple modes of human communication and is the thrust of Finnegan’s work. Here, she explores sight, smell, sound, and touch as they relate to message communication. In her exploration, Finnegan explains how humans use their primary senses to send and receive communicative messages, and the experience of communication varies from the individual person to a culture at large. One specific example, in the smell section, is a discussion of how a person consumes food and wine. The person is not able to share the same piece of food with another, but food and wine can have similar experiences with similar food and wine. While this section is quite thorough, it is not of primary use to mass communicators. It does, however, secondarily apply to mass audience messages, as communicators must realize their messages are being sent through these modes of interaction. Truly, the difference here is seeing interpersonal communication as one to one, while mass is one to many. But, as mass media increasingly becomes an experience of interaction, the person is engaging the media on an interpersonal level. Therefore, interpersonal understanding can be useful in mass media research.

In the third section, Finnegan argues that nearly all communication interaction by humans is multimodal, that is, involves more than one of the senses. This section has significant implications about mass communications, as it discusses multimodal communication, (video and film use sight and sound; print uses sight and touch, etc.) as well as communication across distance and time. This, as well, points to Marshall McLuhan’s idea of a global village connected by technology.

The multiple contexts and modes of human communication combine and diverge over time and space. Knowing this, media authors must create messages that consider its mode, time, and space to actually reach the audience with the intended point. Finnegan’s book breaks new scholarly ground in exploring the many ways in which humans can communicate and listing the attributes of each mode.

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