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Things That Cannot Be Communicated

Things That Cannot Be Communicated

    As a writer, I keep bumping into topics that cannot be communicated for a variety of reasons. I thought I would list them so you see how many there are. That’s the surprising part.

     Feel free to skim it to get to the content after.

    Secrets: Someone asked you not to talk. Or you know it would not be appreciated.

    Embarrassment: The topic is personally embarrassing or would embarrass someone else of importance.

    Brand problem: If you have a personal or corporate brand to protect, you stay away from controversial topics.

    Company secret: You have agreed to not discuss the topic with outsiders.

    Tribal identity: You disagree with your “tribe” but you don’t want to be a traitor to your people. In this context, the tribe might be your gender, age, ethnicity, or lifestyle group.

    Illegal 1: You did something illegal and don’t want anyone to know.

    Illegal 2: You did NOT do something illegal, but displaying too much interest or knowledge in an illegal topic would make it seems as if you did. For example, you don’t want to show too much knowledge of cocaine at the PTA meeting.

    Awful Topic 1: Some topics are so awful no one will listen to them.

    Awful Topic 2: Some experiences are so awful you cannot form the words to describe them. Your brain shuts off.

    Incredible claims with no evidence: If aliens really do abduct you, don’t expect to be believed.

    Liar telling the truth: Once you are a known liar, no one believes anything you say.

    Opponent who is right: When opponents say something true and right, we don’t hear them. We twist the message in our minds until it is something we can disagree with. 

    Self-Interest: If someone has a strong self-interest that opposes our own interests (such as a salesperson) we should not believe everything they say.

    Complicated: Some things are just too complicated to explain. 

    Emotional topic: Some topics are so emotionally charged that no one can hear what the other side is saying.

    Inflammatory speech: Some topics are so inflammatory that just mentioning them could spark a riot.

    Inmate claiming innocence: No one believes a convicted criminal claiming innocence.

    Wrong messenger: In the unlikely event that I made a breakthrough in molecular biology in my garage, no one would listen to a cartoonist on a topic such as that.

    Braggart stories: If a braggart says he gave Steve Jobs the idea for the iPhone, you don’t believe it, even if it happens to be true.

    Hurtful: Some truths would cause pain without a compensating benefit.

    Whistleblower: If you fear retaliation, you stay quiet.

    Confidence: If you are not confident with your knowledge, or just in general, you might keep quiet.

    Strategic: You might see great value in revealing a truth at a future date, so revealing it today is out of the question.

    Kids are involved: Adults keep lots of “adult” topics from kids, for good reasons. Kids keep things from adults too, but not always for good reasons.

    Reminder problem: You do not want to talk about your love of barbecuing while in the hospital burn unit.

    Misinterpretation Risk: If your topic lends itself to misinterpretation by professional outragists, the wise communicator stays away.

    Poor communicator: If you can’t communicate a thought (and many people cannot) it remains locked in your mind.

    Listener is a drama-maker: Sometimes you don’t communicate what you know simply because the listener is too hard to deal with.

    Can of Worms: Some topics are innocent on their own but they open up a line of questioning that you don’t want to invite.

    Messenger is not confident about information: You think you saw your friend’s boyfriend cheating, but you can’t be 100% sure, so you keep it to yourself.

    Avoiding Helpfulness: You might not tell your boss or spouse something important if you fear they might try to “help” you and make things worse.

    Boring: Some information is too boring to for anyone’s attention span to handle.

    Information has competitive value: You don’t want your competitors to know what you are up to.

    The Optimist/Pessimist Problem: Optimists will tend to avoid saying pessimistic things and vice-versa. 

    You are right but you don’t know why: Sometimes you know you are right (call it intuition or pattern recognition) but you don’t know why you are right, so you can’t sell your point of view.

    The truth would seem too braggy: Modesty or professional branding might prevent you from tooting your own horn.

    But here’s the interesting part: These limitations rarely apply when I’m the only listener. People size me up in about a minute and realize I have a personality similar to a therapist.

    • I’m non-judgmental.
    • I am impossible to shock. 
    • I am usually interested.
    • I am a good listener.
    • I can understand complicated things (usually).
    • I have an impulse to be helpful.
    • I can keep a secret.
    • I enjoy hearing opposing views.

    And so I wonder how different my view of reality is compared to the judgy person who is walled-off from the inner thoughts of others. When you wear your judgment on your face, do people tell you what they are really thinking?

    You could argue that ignorance is what makes people judgmental. But I think being judgmental goes a long way to keeping you ignorant.



    —- In Top Tech Blog

    A company invented a glove that can “feel” virtual images, such as in a video game. How long before that technology is mated to a [NSFW] mechanized Fleshlight? I say we have one year until gamers give up on direct human interaction and just start rewarding each other remotely after a good game.

    And now your smartphone really is an exobrain, at least for folks with Alzheimers. An app can keep you “reminded” of important things in your life. The probable direction of this technology is turning your grandfather with Alzheimers into a cyborg with a brain that is part human and part smartphone. If you think about it, a human with almost no memory, but a functioning personality, could someday navigate the world with the phone as his memory. You might not recognize your own kid, but the phone will.

    And how about a helicopter that can catch an expended rocket that is falling to Earth? I give it two years before it becomes the opening sequence of a Bond film.

    —- Interesting Start-up —-

    Berkeley has the second-biggest start-up environment in the world, after Stanford. I’m an alum of the Haas School of Business at Berkeley (MBA program). You will see some of the interesting start-ups spotlighted when I think they are worth the attention. As in…

    A start-up called Honeit created a platform so employers can see candidates interviewed on video by third-parties, with tags that let you quickly find the parts you care about. I can see how it would be a great time-saver for recruiters. But I always wonder how a start-up like this can get critical mass when the service has little value until lots of folks are using it. That’s partly why we highlight this sort of company. If the product has value, just shining some light on it might make the difference. 

    (I have interests in the Berkeley start-up world but not this particular company.)


    This would be the most important book in the world, if the world did not have other books.

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