“And the Lord said, ‘Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’” (Genesis, 11)
The Tower of Babel is the great analogy for the current crisis in digital communication. Like the fabled Tower of Babel of the biblical period, today’s communication setup is both mammoth in size and complexity. However, despite humanity’s extraordinary investment in digital communication, the culture that has grown around this new communicative capability has hampered its ability to be both effective and efficient.
Scholars believe that the origins of the Tower of Babel mentioned in the Book of Genesis are the Mesopotamian Ziggurats, terraced step pyramids built as a sequence of platforms, or floors, each supported by a larger one below it. Similar to fully constructed Ziggurats, effective digital communication is built upon a sequence of progressive levels, each built upon the other. For a message to be effectively communicated, it must successfully overcome the specific challenges each of the levels presents.
We at Knowmail believe that a huge proportion of messages fail to be effectively transmitted because of one or more of the following level specific challenges:
- People do not hear each other
- People hear each other but cannot identify what is being said
- People identify that something is being said but do not understand the language
- People understand the language but cannot understand the meaning
- People understand meaning but fail to take action
- People take action but that action is unsatisfactory
The combined effect of these failures hampers and obfuscates communication among knowledge workers worldwide and forms a critical part of a problem formally referred to as “Information Overload.” In the United States alone, the monetary impact of this problem has been quantified to around one trillion dollars a year , with numerous indirect effects exacting higher tolls . In addition, the detrimental effects of this problem increase enormously in globally distributed teams as geographic diversity forces these teams to also manage both language and cultural divides. However, even local groups suffer from most of the issues discussed.
Considering the enormous contribution of digital communication to information overload, over the next series of blog posts, we will discuss each problem and its current solutions in greater detail. When we conclude our blog series, we will share our optimal solution to the digital communication “Tower of Babel”.
“A sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on.”
 $900B in a 2008 estimate from analyst firm Basex.
 Zeldes, Nathan, David Sward, and Sigal Louchheim. “Infomania: Why We Can’t Afford It Any Longer.” First Monday 12 (2007). First Monday. Web.