Sunday, 22 April 2012

Shannon and Weaver's Model of Transmission

    Shannon and Weaver's model is one which is, in John Fiske's words, 'widely accepted as one of the main seeds out of which Communication Studies has grown' (Fiske 1982: 6). Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver were not social scientists but engineers working for Bell Telephone Labs in the United States. Their goal was to ensure the maximum efficiency of telephone cables and radio waves. They developed a model of communication which was intended to assist in developing a mathematical theory of communication. Shannon and Weaver's work proved valuable for communication engineers in dealing with such issues as the capacity of various communication channels in 'bits per second'. It contributed to computer science. It led to very useful work on redundancy in language. And in making 'information' 'measurable' it gave birth to the mathematical study of 'information theory'. However, these directions are not our concern here. The problem is that some commentators have claimed that Shannon and Weaver's model has a much wider application to human communication than a purely technical one.

    C & W's original model consisted of five elements:

    1. An information source, which produces a message.
    2. transmitter, which encodes the message into signals
    3. channel, to which signals are adapted for transmission
    4. receiver, which 'decodes' (reconstructs) the message from the signal.
    5. destination, where the message arrives.
    A sixth element, noise is a dysfunctional factor: any interference with the message travelling along the channel (such as 'static' on the telephone or radio) which may lead to the signal received being different from that sent.
    Example 1: For the telephone the channel is a wire, the signal is an electrical current in it, and the transmitter and receiver are the telephone handsets. Noise would include crackling from the wire.
    Example 2: In conversation, my mouth is the transmitter, the signal is the sound waves, and your ear is the receiver. Noise would include any distraction you might experience as I speak.
    Shannon and Weaver's transmission model is the best-known example of the 'informational' approach to communication. Although no serious communication theorist would still accept it, it has also been the most influential model of communication which has yet been developed, and it reflects a commonsense (if misleading) understanding of what communication is. Lasswell's verbal version of this model: 'Who says what in which channel to whom with what effect ?' was reflected in subsequent research in human communication which was closely allied to behaviouristic approaches.

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