Sunday, January 30, 2011

Listening: Signal to Noise Ratio

A lot of what I think and type is meant for me, so please don't take this as me professing from experience or education...

Let me explain a principle: Think of your cell phone. When you use it to make a call, the tower you are connected to is transmitting a signal. That signal is competing with background noise that can be coming from all over which winds up sounding like static. In order for your phone to work properly, the phone needs to hear the signal from the tower more clearly than the background noise. This is (quite obviously) the signal to noise ratio and you want more signal than noise.

If you are having reception problems, there are three ways to improve this ratio.
  1. Increase the amplitude of the signal.
  2. Reduce the amount of noise.
  3. Move closer to the source of the signal.
Besides the obvious application to mobile phones, I'm trying to figure out how to apply this principle to improve my ability to listen to God and listen to others. For each improvement consider:
  1. With people, you can ask them to speak up. With God, I think he might already be talking loud enough already but see number 2 and 3.
  2. With people, and with God there are a lot of things in our lives that may be distracting us from being able to hear. These could range from literally noisy things to addictions or maybe even financial prosperity (yikes). I think if we stop and listen hard, we know the source of the noise that is making us unable to hear.
  3. With people and with God, if you can't hear them move closer. Maybe the closer I really mean here has less to do with proximity and more to do with familiarity, which exceeds the bounds of my illustration, but I think makes sense. You will be able to tune into what people or God is saying if you get to know them better or spend more time with them and what they care about.
One other thing to know about the signal to noise ratio. In some cases, the thing that prevents you from hearing the signal is your own transmition. In the case of human communication this holds true. If you're talking, you can't easily listen because you become your own noise.