On the Limits Tacitly Imposed By Communication Systems

Okay, talkies, I have a dare for you. I’m not kidding. If you are a full-time fluent speaker, I’m actually asking you to do this, even though it is work. Feel free to spread it out over multiple days. (And note: you will learn a lot more if you read each step, do it, and only then read the next step.




Take 128 index cards and a pen. Set aside a pad of paper for later. (None of these things is intrinsic to the task. Feel free to substitute alternate ways of writing if needed for disability reasons. But if you can use index cards, that will help you grasp my point.)




Write out as many of the really important words/phrases/sentences you may want to say as you can, one on each card, without going over 128. You’ll be able to combine things. So if you have a card for “I’m hungry” and a card for “not,” you don’t need another card for “I’m not hungry.” You can already make that message. You don’t have to use all 128 cards, but you can’t use more.




Pick a number between 1 and 5. Write it down. You’ll need it later.




Contemplate how many options 128 is. I mean, that’s a stack of cards you have in your hand, right? It could be hard even to find the right card when you go looking.



It’s too late to go back and change anything now, but ask yourself if you forgot anything.




Using only the messages you have written on your cards, and based on the number you selected in step 3, write out one of the following:


  1. a love letter to someone you want to spend your life with
  2. a crime report explaining how someone hurt you and giving enough evidence that the crime can be solved and prosecuted
  3. a eulogy for a parent or other central figure in your life
  4. an essay about the best and worst things that happened to you today and why they matter
  5. an account of your dreams for your future


Do your best. Do your very, very best.




Put what you have just written aside. Go for a walk. Shake out your body. Have some water. Notice how you felt writing that. Notice how you feel afterward. Take a break for a day or two. This is hard stuff.




Give what you wrote to a friend. Tell them a person with a disability wrote it, but don’t tell them more than that. Ask your friend to read it and give you an honest assessment of this person. Listen carefully.




Make your own adventure.

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