Grounding on Communication: Where do modern communication technologies stand? (Blog 2)

Clark, Herbert H., and Susan E. Brennan. “Grounding in communication.” Perspectives on socially shared cognition 13.1991 (1991): 127-149.


This paper discusses the grounding of communication where communication is some process and medium that is understood to be a collaborative process that has many ways of establishing understanding through developing utterance and costs associated to establish common ground. The authors of this chapter dive into creating a foundation of “grounding” in conversation. What follows is a breakdown of how one contributes to a conversation, what are the evident cues, and the formation of least collaborative effort. Additionally, grounding needs to consider the medium, or conversation interaction, to better understand the costs associated between the participants in the conversation. In summary, grounding is used to understand both purpose and medium to keep coordination for collective conversation.


In reflection, the research method is not clear to me — and leaves me to think this is more of a survey/literature review type of deal. This paper’s contribution seems to be more of an opinion/theoretical paper that focuses on crafting new foundation for communication. In retrospect, I don’t see much more the paper could have discussed without expanding more on that subject. The material and content flowed very well and explored grounding conversation very well. There was even a table showing the different kinds of communication mediums and how their constraints and the resulting costs for such grounding. Anything more would have been too much in my opinion and would be better suited as a follow up paper. The rest of this reflection briefly examines reddit and discord as online communication mediums using this papers lenses. 

What I love about this paper is an in depth explanation of ways of communication and how it established both the process (i.e. state of the conversation and evidence in grounding) of communication and how medium (i.e. telephones, face-to-face, email, etc.) changes the costs of such communication. What’s important is also introducing the least collaborative effort changes how communication is done and what The least collaborative effort is described as conversation where the participants try to minimize their collaborative efforts to have a conversation and to allow repairs of the conversation where flaws within the conversation is possible. Further, there are the associated costs listed out for each medium respectively. This makes me think about our current conversational tools that have since been developed.

One technology that comes to mind is Discord. Discord has been developed over the past couple years to focus on gamers and their communication and social needs. Just observing any server and watching how people have conversation is interesting. Conversation can be 2 or more people and usually flows very well. There seems to be an unspoken norm well you can respond and elaborate as much as needed, then a brief period of not typing usually results in someone responding. The context of the conversation doesn’t seem to influence the instant messaging norms too much. However, I wonder if links, videos, images that need examining  during the conversation effects conversation and attention of some respondents. Secondly, the scale of participants can go up into the 100s for simultaneous communication. Clark et al. doesn’t focus beyond 2 people when showing his groundings. 

Lastly, for our reddit speedrunning project, this paper fits in understanding how people converse about speedruns in a few ways. Observing  /r/speedrun a little bit shows different types of conversation ranging from discussion on strategies for specific games, asking help about software tools, and announcements related to world records and personal bests. However, even with different context of conversation, reddit’s architecture enforces a forum “comment and reply” structure when it comes to conversation. Following in Clark et al. table of mediums, my intuition says the costs of this communication is like email. The person starting a chain for replies to be had can reflect on what they want to say before posting it and doesn’t have to be present to have real-time conversation. With that said, this type of conversation often leaves reddit if it becomes deeper and requires more detail in the moment. An instant messenger like Skype or Discord is good for such conversation that is frequently advertised on reddit.

Some questions on paper:

  1. How is this paper seen in today’s world where many different ways of communication (skype, discord, social media) have been created?
  2. What are the relevant constraints for today’s mediums like discord, skype, reddit, facebook, etc.?
  3. Follow up, are the costs similar? For instance, does instant messenger carry similar communication cues and effort as face-to-face communication?