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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Revision as of 20:22, 9 August 2012


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Misinterpretation
"But there are seven billion people in the world! I can't possibly stop to consider how ALL of them might interpret something!" "Ah, yes, there's no middle ground between 'taking personal responsibility for the thoughts and feelings of every single person on Earth' and 'covering your eyes and ears and yelling logically correct statements into the void.' That's a very insightful point and not at all inane."
Title text: "But there are seven billion people in the world! I can't possibly stop to consider how ALL of them might interpret something!" "Ah, yes, there's no middle ground between 'taking personal responsibility for the thoughts and feelings of every single person on Earth' and 'covering your eyes and ears and yelling logically correct statements into the void.' That's a very insightful point and not at all inane."

Explanation

Cueball is complaining that people are mad at him again because of a misinterpretation of his statements. This is referenced by the comic's title. Since he is being perfectly clear, (or so he claims,) it cannot be his fault that everyone misinterprets him.

However, the off-screen voice sarcastically points out that communication is an activity that only involves one person. Hence the speaker makes it clear that "real" communication involves work on behalf of both the speaker as well as the listener. Cueball claims that he is being “perfectly clear”, but if there is room for misinterpretation on behalf of almost everyone that reads his comments, then he is not.

In the title text, Cueball then answers that he cannot possibly account for the many possible interpretations which the message, potentially reaching the whole world, could acquire. The reply comes once again sarcastically, deriding his point and saying that a middle ground between taking up such an effort and entirely avoiding it must be reached.

This avoidance is phrased using a simile as “covering your eyes and ears and yelling logically correct statements into the void”, implying that no one would understand the logical sentences (thus the void), and would instead read them more naturally – and also that ignoring the appalled reaction of listeners to their own interpretation of the sentences is similar to covering your eyes and ears. This action makes communication more difficult through the popular[citation needed] means of speech, text and sign language. If the hands are occupied with covering either part, then Braille communication is also impossible. Therefore, the action of “covering your eyes and ears” is a metaphor for deliberately making it more difficult to communicate with oneself. The simile might also mean that Cueball subconsciously rejects criticism as it would hurt his ego.

It is clear that Cueball is acting as a straw man to further Randall's point, and the off-panel character is portrayed as the (sarcastic) voice of reason.

Randall returns to a recurring theme in his comics, regarding, in contexts of communication, the responsibility of the speaker for how they are interpreted. Having gradually gotten less subtle, this theme is now laid bare, there being no joke other than the sarcasm. What follows is a chronological history of this theme.

  • Much earlier than the other comics below, but related, 169: Words that End in GRY is a surreal reprimand upon people who act smug when their bad communication is misunderstood.
  • The title text of 1028: Communication notes that “Anyone who says that they're great at communicating but 'people are bad at listening' is confused about how communication works.”
  • The title text of 1860: Communicating also asserts that the responsibility of a misunderstanding lies with the speaker, not the listener — a theme explored in the comic via the character Humpty Dumpty.
  • The comic 1911: Defensive Profile implies that a person who boasts of having “no filter” in their (social media) speech is actually merely insecure about making people mad with their statements.

This theme is part of the larger category of comics about social interactions.

Transcript

[Cueball is sitting in an office chair at a desk in front of a laptop with his hands raised above the keyboard. An off-panel person replies to his remarks.]
Cueball: Ugh, people are mad at me again because they don't read carefully.
Cueball: I'm being perfectly clear. It's not my fault if everyone misinterprets what I say.
Off-panel person: Wow, sounds like you're great at communicating, an activity that famously involves just one person.


Discussion

Talk:1984

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