By Paxcelli Flores

When I tell people I’m a graduate student at the University of San Francisco’s MA in Professional Communication program, first I get a quizzical look, then the question: Professional Communication: what is that?

At first I myself was not really sure how to define the term. When I applied I was lured by the program’s creativity, flexibility, small size, downtown location, and the career opportunities it seemed to offer in a range of sectors.

But I didn’t really know what Professional Communication was. I understood the “professional” part, but what was communication, and why that singular — no s — communication: what did that mean? I had the vague notion that communication was communications, in the way that a telephone company or a cable company is in communications. My familiarity with the term was tied to the tools of communication, not so much the act of of communicating. So I assumed that I was going to graduate school in large part to learn the tools of the trade, but increasingly I found that the tools are only half of it — or less than half of it.

It wasn’t until a class this summer that the lightbulb went off about the difference between communications and communication. In class my professor explained that in communications the emphasis is more on the means of sending and distributing messages, the tools by which and channels through which information or data are relayed. This more technical-leaning term is not to be confused with the more humanist idea of communication (hold the s). This word is more about the messages themselves, the stories that people tell, the particular language that they use in sharing messages across various channels in an effort to build relationships and exchange ideas.

After that night’s class, I went home excited to have a clearer idea of what that pesky word “Communication” really meant. I now had a solid explanation to share with people, and my curiosity was sparked to do some further research. Everyone knows that the history of communication started with cave drawings, that communication is flexible and adaptable and thus always in flux. We are living in a time where technology has accelerated the speed and form with which we communicate in mind-blowing ways. Faxes, snail mail, landline calls, even cell calls and good old fashioned face-to-face exchange are possibly headed toward obsolescence in this wild, exciting, unnerving time.

In this vast landscape of endless, quick firing communication, we have more tools than we ever could have imagined — scads of social media channels, videoconferencing platforms that shrink the world, the magic of text and emoticons and video stories — yet we mustn’t lose sight of communication, the simple act of telling a story, sharing and receiving messages, person to person. That form of communication is the most important tool of all. Communications may have the bells and whistles, but communication has the voice, the authentic, true message that can only come from you to me and me to you.

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