Wednesday, February 21

Chasing Tails: Schrödinger's Cat

Every now and again, I reference seemingly unrelated topics (psychology, philosophy, quantum physics, and even theology among them) and then attempt to apply them to communication. To me, they fit together. Others disagree, and that is okay.

Recently, I referenced quantum physics in a response to someone who asked, basically, whether bloggers were obligated to contact the people they post about, especially if there is a perception that the post is critical. It's a good question.

In response, I posted that as someone who has worked as a journalist beyond social media (and occasionally still do), I have often asked myself the same question, but eventually reached the conclusion that no, that argument, while valid, doesn't hold up. From a strict communication perspective, I likened blogs to op-eds, where observations/opinions are made and anyone (on most blogs) have an opportunity to comment (agree/disagree) with equal space or comment (agree/disagree) on their own blog if they prefer. (Besides, I imagine it would be a public relations nightmare to field calls from hundreds of bloggers.)

But I also alluded to the prospect of quantum physics as part of my rationale without explanation. I'd like to take a stab at tying that in, recognizing I am a mere novice on the subject by comparison to probably anybody in that field.

In simplest terms, quantum physicists have long asked whether or not the observation of science could potentially impact the results of what is observed. In other words, does the observation of the atom and its components, quantum and whatnot, alter what they do?

In attempting to address this question, Schrödinger's Cat, proposed by Erwin Schrödinger in 1935, demonstrates the conflict between "what quantum theory tells us is true about the nature and behavior of matter on the microscopic level and what we observe to be true about the nature and behavior of matter on the macroscopic level." Part of the lesson is referred to as the quantum indeterminacy or the observer's paradox: the observation or measurement itself affects an outcome, so that it can never be known what the outcome would have been if it were not observed.

Applying this to communication, I submit that the more direct interaction between a blogger and the subject matter, the more likely the blogger could potentially alter the outcome of any communication study. Sure, I know what some people are thinking right now: if that is true, then could the post itself alter the outcome? Absolutely, but with some limitations.

With the advent of social media, posts are already part of the equation just as traditional media always has been. So, while a post after the fact may or may not alter the outcome, the same information shared privately before any action occurs would almost certainly change the outcome, perhaps negating the future post.

For example, purposely avoiding mention of where this conversation came up, let's say I sent John Edwards an e-mail (I didn't) that said "John, what gives? Your only way out of this communication mess is if the bloggers resign." Let's say he took the advice to heart and those two bloggers resigned the next day, negating the need to send out that ill-advised statement. That would have dramatically altered the case study whereas what I did, write about that case study in real time with my comments bearing no more weight than any others, was simply part of the total communication equation.

So without question, the side effect of transparency or being a public figure changes behavior. Imagine for a moment, Schrödinger's Cat placed in a glass box with hundreds of people shouting conflicting messages that the cat understood. Surely, that will cause a different outcome than Schrödinger prescribed. Yet, in the study of communication and transparency and being a public figure, this is precisely the the environment in which studies are conducted.

Here's another example: will a teenager left alone with a can of beer react differently than if left alone with friends who drink beer or differently if he is left alone with parents who discourage drinking. You bet the outcome will be different, but it will be even more different if we tell the teenager exactly what we intend to do. It is also a possibility that the teenager who learns they were observed after the fact might react differently the next time out, but that is the very essence of a learning process.

Please, if you are one of the handful of people who regularly read this blog, keep in mind that I rarely if ever have any opinion about a subject beyond their behavior unless specifically noted. Case in point: whether Verizon is a good company or bad company is irrelevant on this blog (though I am a Verizon customer with no cause to change plans). What is relevant is that I disagreed with certain aspects of the company's communication, which I write about here for very specific reasons, including: public relations students who attend my class or anyone hoping to glean a different, hopefully interesting, perspective on communication.

In simplest terms, I believe there are two ways to learn something. One is the hard way by doing and making mistakes (or perhaps doing it right). One is the easy way, which is by learning from others who already did it the hard way. It is my hope by focusing on best practices and more often worst examples that more people can learn the easy way.

In conclusion, if you or your company is the subject of a post here, you are welcome to post comments or e-mail me (if you prefer private correspondence) like anyone as I will not be contacting you (simply put, pre-post advice is reserved for clients). However, I am always happy to correct any misinformation, clarify a point, listen to your opinion, or whatever; whereas I am equally obliged to disagree if there is cause under certain circumstances.

Digg!

1 comments:

Rich on 2/21/07, 4:43 PM said...

Famous First Words:

"I call BS. God does not play dice with blog posts, and as for Schrodinger, if he were around today, PETA would have his head." — Colin Kingsbury, HRM Direct

Schrodinger, of course, never used a real cat; quantum physics has led several to faith; and any reasonable person can watch the Anna Nicole Smith story and deduce that public observation and public comment absolutely changes behavior.

Post a Comment

 

Blog Archive

Google+ Followers

by Rich Becker Copyright © 2010 Designed by Bie Blogger Template