The effectiveness and futility of communication

This 1962 column from Larry Ragan reminds us why cute messages are ineffective.

This 1962 Larry Ragan column takes us back to the time when men predominantly rode trains that had smoking cars. Larry’s thoughts on what makes for good communication, however, stand the test of time —ed.

As I ride home on the commuter train late at night, I often while away the time by inspecting two signs at the front of the car. Studied together, they emphasize both the effectiveness and the futility of communication.

One sign reads simply, “Smoking Not Permitted.” I don’t smoke in that car. The sign communicates very well to me. The other sign is an attempt to be clever, but succeeds only in being cute. It reads:

Confucius say: Shoes look neat … on feet But feet on seat … not neat. Please help us keep our seats clean.

This sign does not communicate to me. For I often gaze up at its precious verse as I sit comfortably, my feet stretched across the seat in front of me, relaxing in a posture for which the ottoman was invented.

As I look about me in the almost empty car, I see that the cute verse hasn’t communicated with other men in the car either. Many of them have also reversed the seat in front of them so that they might use it to rest their feet on the extra room it provides.

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