Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
This comic is divided into two parts, the first two rows of panels and then the third one.
The first part demonstrates a failed attempt at communication:
- White Hat notices a dangerous hole, and thinks he should warn people about it.
- White Hat encounters Hairy and tries to warn him about the hole, while Hairy is wondering what White Hat wants.
- Hairy doesn't understand the warning, only seeing White Hat ranting about something.
- White Hat is irritated by Hairy's lack of understanding, and leaves him.
- White Hat encounters Megan, who tries to tell him about another hole, but White Hat is still annoyed about Hairy and tries to talk about him instead.
- White Hat and Megan continue on, both frustrated by the outcome of their encounters.
- Megan meets Hairy, and they share their common experience of seeing White Hat upset about something.
- They continue on towards the first hole, unaware of it. Note: quite strangely (mistake?), Hairy seems to "lose" his hair, but it's still the same person, as evidenced by Randall's transcript of the comic.
- Megan and Hairy fall into the first hole since it wasn't properly communicated to them.
- White Hat falls into the second hole since it wasn't properly communicated to him.
The holes are, hilariously, only about one person deep, probably simply so that we can recognize who fell in; unaware and careless people don't notice them when they come upon them, which makes them symbolic of any problem or danger one can encounter in life, and could avoid if properly warned or careful.
The second part demonstrates a much more successful attempt at communication:
- Beret Guy notices a dangerous hole, and thinks he should warn people about it.
- Beret Guy finds Cueball, and tells him to come along.
- Cueball doesn't understand why, but follows Beret Guy anyway.
- Beret Guy leads Cueball to the hole, which he shows him.
- Beret Guy and Cueball are both properly warned about the hole now.
The moral of the story is that the best way to communicate may be to show instead of tell.
If you are not familiar with it, the symbol of the triangle with the exclamation mark in it is a widely used symbol that means "warning".
The title text references the requirement that "communication" is a two-sided process, and just telling someone something does not mean that you "communicated" the information to them: if they failed to understand, then it means you failed to communicate.
- [White Hat looks down at a large gap in the walkway; a thought bubble with a warning symbol and an image of the gap appears above his head.]
- [White Hat walks to the right, away from the gap, and encounters Hairy, to which he speaks (in iconographic speech bubble form), attempting to inform him about the gap. A thought bubble appears above Hairy's head with an image of White Hat.]
- [White Hat continues, waving his arms, still talking about the gap. Hairy's thought bubble continues to contain images of White Hat, now gesturing frantically.]
- [Hairy shrugs in a nonplussed manner, and White Hat leaves off the right side of the frame. Both have thought bubbles displaying the other's reaction.]
- [White Hat continues to the right and comes across Megan. He tells her about the reaction of Hairy (still all in iconographic form); she simultaneously tries to tell him about a gap and gestures off to the right of the frame.]
- [White Hat and Megan both leave the frame thinking of each other's reactions; Megan exiting left and White Hat exiting right.]
- [Megan (still thinking about White Hat) encounters Hairy (who is also still thinking about White Hat).]
- [Megan and Hairy talk about White Hat.]
- [Megan and Hairy continue talking about White Hat as they exit the frame to the left.]
- [A commotion is heard from the left.]
- [The camera pans over to the left, where Megan and Hairy have fallen into a gap in the walkway. A commotion is then also heard from the right.]
- [The camera pans over to the right, where White Hat has also fallen into a gap.]
- [Beret Guy comes across a gap in the walkway.]
- [Beret Guy runs off the frame to the right.]
- [Beret Guy meets Cueball, and tells him (still in iconographic form) to come with him. Cueball has a thought bubble of Beret Guy.]
- [Beret Guy takes Cueball's hand and leads him along to the left. Cueball's thought bubble has question marks around Beret Guy.]
- [Beret Guy leads Cueball to the gap and shows him it.]
- [Beret Guy and Cueball walk away from the gap to the right, now both thinking about the gap.]
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I can't decide if the irony that this comic didn't communicate its idea well was intentional or if I just didn't get it at first because I'm dumb... 22.214.171.124 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
- Don't worry. Not everybody can read "international," so it may be a bit hard to interpret. Really, he's just citing John R. Trimble: "Clear writers assume, with a pessimism born of experience, that whatever isn't plainly stated the reader will invariably misconstrue." In this case, after several examples of poor communication (and the consequences) the only clear communicator is Beret Guy, who rather adeptly shows rather than tells Cueball of the peril. Visual prolix? Maybe. As you say, that may be the point. -- IronyChef (talk) 02:44, 19 August 2012 (UTC)
- Well, it wouldn't be that you're dumb, it would be that you're "bad at reading comics" :) - jerodast (talk) 16:43, 21 December 2012 (UTC)
I don't believe that the holes are only one person deep. It seems as though the heads are level with the ground just to show who is falling into each hole at that moment. 126.96.36.199 11:20, 21 September 2012 (UTC)
After panel 5-6, does WHG think that he actually communicated the left hole successfully to the girl, given that he does not understand her "hole!" message as a warning of the right hole? I remember that's how I read it the first time. 188.8.131.52 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
Where does the name Harry come from? Is this established usage on the wiki? Dropping it in the explanation out of nowhere is confusing. - jerodast (talk) 16:44, 21 December 2012 (UTC)
- Using names to refer to the characters was a tradition that was officially started back on the blog when Berg guest authored one of the explanations. This makes it easier for everyone to be sure they are referring to the same character, and they're also cute fan-made names. lcarsos_a (talk) 17:04, 21 December 2012 (UTC)
- Sure sure, I get that, but Cueball and Danish have pages where confused users can go to understand where the name came from. "Harry" just drops out of nowhere here. Does he appear in other comics? Should we make a page for him? - jerodast (talk) 16:19, 22 December 2012 (UTC)
- I don't think we call him Harry, but there are other comics where a character with a little bit of hair shows up. If he shows up in at least 3 comics you can go ahead and create the category and his character page. lcarsos_a (talk) 17:04, 22 December 2012 (UTC)
- He was of course referring to Hairy which has been clarified long time ago. --Kynde (talk) 14:11, 16 March 2015 (UTC)
I disagree that the moral is that the best way to teach is to show someone, I believe the moral is that teaching hasn't happened until the learner understands. If you succeed in communicating by talking, that's great, if you succeed by showing, that's great too. However, if you try to teach by talking and the other person doesn't understand, you've failed. If you try to teach by showing and the other person doesn't understand, you've also failed. I'm going to make a change to include that. If anyone objects, revert it. Djbrasier (talk) 20:35, 22 August 2013 (UTC)
- I agree with you (that is a first ;-) I think you forgot to implement the change you were advocating for, and said you would make. I have tried to make it clear that it is about communication not about how you do it. --Kynde (talk) 17:20, 16 March 2015 (UTC)
I took the moral to be that you need to not immediately jump to what you're you're saying, rather talk a little first. Banak (talk) 17:00, 16 November 2013 (UTC)
I don't get what part of "there's a hole over there" is so hard to understand that you need to show them it for people not to be confused. Really, this comic must've been based on some special kind of stupid people.--184.108.40.206 07:56, 4 June 2014 (UTC)
- Are you familiar with the concept of a metaphor? Did you miss the xkcd comic where Randall himself pointed out that models are imperfect representations of abstract ideas (iirc, the example in question was gravity as it relates to spacetime, "what's pulling the planet down into the grid then?") It isn't lost on me that this comment is a year old, I just... it felt like it necessitated a response. If you're getting caught up in the specifics of this being a literal situation, then it's you who has missed the point. Aepokk (talk) 08:55, 6 September 2015 (UTC)
- (yeah, I know this is more than three years old) Aside from what Aepokk already wrote, if I told you "Пази, рупа на путу у оном правцу", would you immediately understand what I was trying to communicate to you? BytEfLUSh (talk) 23:06, 23 October 2017 (UTC)
«It is very typical for the character Beret Guy to succeed, especially with something difficult, where White Hat fails.» I would be grateful for examples that show how this is typical. :-) 220.127.116.11 19:26, 12 February 2017 (UTC)