How good a friend are you? According to a high-school buddy of mine, the answer to that question lies in your willingness to tell a person she has a booger hanging from her nose. And he wasn’t referring to the liquidy, clear boogers that come along with the seasonal cold. Those are fairly common and don’t excite much disgust. No, his was the dry, hardened, yellowish type of booger that sticks out just enough to catch your attention during a face-to-face conversation. Set aside that unappealing mental image for a second and you’d have to admit my friend’s litmus test for friendship strength has at least a little validity.
The problem, as you are finding out, is that you can’t let go of that image. If you’re like most people, you are now thinking about that booger. It has confiscated your mind. You’re thinking of the times you’ve witnessed such a sight. You’re trying to recall what you did on those occasions. Or you’re wiping your nose right now just to make sure you aren’t the one currently in need of a good friend. That booger, that image, is what we in the field of communication call noise.
Noise, technically, is anything that might prevent a message from being received or interpreted as intended. Yes, noise can be of deafening decibels—as in the loud celebrations after Team Canada beat the USA in hockey to take home Olympic gold. But, it’s also that disgusting booger peaking out the nose of a beautiful model you can’t stop taking a look at (the booger not the model). It’s your boss’ pants’ zipper that didn’t find closure just before he or she is about to give a speech. These are noise.