Cybernetic Tradition of Communication

Over the past seven weeks I have been fortunate enough to participate in COM601, a Communications Fluency class, through Queens University in Charlotte, NC. During the class we have examined seven traditions and accompanying theories of communication. While each tradition was interesting to me and gave me new ways to interpret what was happening around me, there was one that seemed to resonate particularly strong, probably because of my computer background.

As a former IT professional the concepts of flow charts, processes, and networks are second nature to me. While reading about the cybernetic tradition and viewing the hypothetical cybernetic network diagram (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011, page 51, figure 3.1) I was on familiar territory. It reminded me of the programmer’s “Do Loop,” – a method of coding a program that goes like this: if this event occurs, do this; if the event does not occur, do that. If the process is isn’t mapped out on a flow chart beforehand, a careless coder can forget to create a path for the “does not” alternative, and the program can get stuck in the “Do Loop” forever.

This scenario is analogous to the basics of the cybernetic tradition. Like a computer program “a system takes inputs from the environment, processes them, and creates outputs that are put back into the environment.” (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011, p. 50) Systems feed on one another both good and bad. If you want to change the output, you must change the input. This scenario can be used to analyze communication but also sports, office organization, teaching, dieting, directing a choir, or most any other process or system imaginable.

Before taking this course, I was unfamiliar with the theories of communication and how those theories could be applied to real life situations. Admittedly I have only just scratched the surface of what the study of communication has to offer, but I now believe that if communication theory was a required course of study in high school, similar to English or math, young adults would be equipped with the tools needed to better understand one another, and inspired with the desire and ability to create a kinder, more accepting and just society.


Littlejohn, S and Foss, K. A. (2011) Theories of Human Communication (10 ed.) Long Grove, Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc.

One thought on “Cybernetic Tradition of Communication

  1. Hi Melinda, Your suggestion about teaching Communication in high school sounds good to me. There is a lot of emphasis at the college where I work to teach, “life skills” to students, so that, not only are they prepared with skills for the workforce, but they have the personal characteristics and insight to succeed. I agree with you that learning about Communication would give people valuable insight. It’s useful in most aspects of life. Nancy


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