Telephone game, anyone?

Does anyone know of published research on the children's game of "telephone?"

A friend was curiouis after my recent discussion of fun with email and interpersonal communications. The result of the game is usually gales of laughter from children when they realize how badly they mis-hear verbal phrases.

Kids usually sit in a circle, and someone whispers a phrase to the first child, who whispers it to the next, and so on. Things like "My favorite flower is the rose" beomce "My father has no nose."

Along with my earlier post on Wiio's laws, this is another example of where even face-to-face discussion gets misinterpretted. It reminds us how important it is to speak and write clearly.

5 Comment(s)

Chris Dent said:

The telephone game is one of my arguments against face to face or telephone conversation in "work" interaction. Or for that matter anything that is not text based.

If it's not archived, there's no checksum, no record, etc.

If it's not text, the archive can't be referenced.

In my workplace, everything happens on shared mailing lists and logged IRC, all of it with purple numbers (for easy reference).

Telephone game errors don't go away, but you can go back and check when noise gets out of hand.

Obviously face to face interaction can't and shouldn't go away, but I generally think that many of the problems it is supposed to solve (lack of body language in email) are smaller than the cost: understanding that is only present in present time.

Jack Vinson said:

Thanks, Chris. This seems to go against many common discussions of the value of f2f interactions, but you do make some interesting points. I wonder how this concept plays out in high trust vs. low trust organizations? Or is this (preference for electronic/recorded communications) more of the ability to help people keep track of their commitments as a group and as individuals?

Chris Dent said:

The model I'm talking about assumes a fair number of things that are probably not present in a lot of groups: high trust;relatively low numbers; an environment with a high level of external inputs causing noise (implying a need for some kind of stable ground); participants with facile understanding of the tools used as well as good reading, writing and typing skills; task or problem solving orientation (rather than sales, say); [...]

In theory a lot of groups meet these criteria but in practice (my observations) it is literate geeks with a charistmatic focal point (a leader by example) that seem to pull it off the best. By literate I mean people who read and write both well and quickly, but are also able to deal with error easily. Geeks: people who handle email, irc, web as a matter of course not simply because they use the tools a lot but because they understand the tools well enough to write their own, in a pinch.

This latter point is something I've found very interesting my whole life. It's mirrored in the problem some students have with math teachers who say "Don't worry about how it works, just learn the technique." That short circuiting may work for some situations, but leaves people crippled. I approach this idea somewhat in my computer as tool paper (at , I guess I can't use html) but I think there's a lot more there than I hit, especially with regard to external cognition.

I think external cognition is the fundament of knowledge management.

Ken said:

It's a bit late, and possibly down a different road than you seem to be interested, but I've developed a means of comparing policy implementation networks based on structural characteristics, such as sequential complexity. The idea is identical to the "telephone" dynamic, where more participants inevitably leads to information loss.

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