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A communications primer

22 minutes

A classic film on communication finds renewed meaning in the age of memes and emojis

From personal email and texts to Facebook, Twitter and the like, the last several decades have seen an unprecedented influx of new means of human-to-human communication. So it’s a testament to the work of the US mathematician and ‘father of information theory’ Claude Shannon (1916-2001) that his model of communication, laid out in his landmark book The Mathematical Theory of Communication (1949), is still so broadly applicable. 

Working from Shannon’s book, in 1953 the iconic husband-and-wife design team Ray and Charles Eames created the short film A Communications Primer for IBM, intending to ‘interpret and present current ideas on communications theory to architects and planners in an understandable way, and encourage their use as tools in planning and design’. Released at the dawn of the personal computer age, the film’s exploration of symbols, signals and ‘noise’ remains thoroughly – almost stunningly – relevant when viewed some 64 years later.

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