This speech was presented on October 12, 2000 during a public speaking class at the University of Minnesota. It is called 'Communication Flatland' and deals with the dimensions of communication. Below you will find the preparation outline. You can also listen to the speech itself (MP3 or Realplayer). I hope you enjoy it! -Wayne Pafko

Wayne Pafko

Spch1101: Public Speaking

Instructor: Katie Delmore

Informative Speech

Communication Flatland

Topic, Goal, & Thesis

Topic: Available dimensions in communication.

Specific Goal: Get the audience to think about the available communication dimensions.  “Help people break out of flatland.”

Thesis: There are many dimensions available for communication. We often underestimate the available dimensions.  The world is not 3D.

Hear the Speech

28k modem: flatland28.rm (Realplayer, 9 min : 40 sec, 1.2 megs)

DSL: flatlanddsl.rm (Realplayer, 9 min : 40 sec, 4.7 megs)

Download: flatland.mp3 (MP3, 9 min : 40 sec, 9.3 megs)

"Imagine you are flat. Not just skinny, perfectly flat. And not just you, but everyone around you is flat. In fact, the whole world is flat. This odd state of affairs..." -Wayne Pafko (start of this speech)


Preparation Outline


Attention Getter: Image you are flat.  Not just skinny, perfectly flat.  And not just you, everyone around you.  And not just everyone, the whole world is flat.  Everything exists in only two dimensions. 

Edwin Abbot imaged just such a world in his 1884 novel, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions.  In this book flatlanders inhabit a 2D world.  Because they only have two dimensions, they are very limited in what they can do.  Let me read you a short paragraph…

“I call our world Flatland, not because we call it so, but to makes its nature clearer to you, my happy readers, who are privileged to live in Space.  Imagine a vast sheet of paper on which straight Lines, Triangles, Squares, Pentagons, Hexagons, and other figures, instead of remaining fixed in their places, move freely about, on or in the surface, but without the power of rising above or sinking below it, very much like shadows—only hard and with luminous edges—and you will then have a pretty correct notion of my country and countrymen… In such a county, you will perceive at once that it is impossible that there should be anything of what you call a ‘solid kind… Nothing was visible, nor could be visible, to us, except Straight Lines…”  (Abbot, p. 3)

So, because they were stuck in flatland, they were very limited.  They could not go around objects, only over or below them.  Because they saw the world from within flatland, everyone looked like a line, because you can only see their edge.  In flatland, I suspect “pong” would be the favorite sport and movies would be like morse code.  The world would be a boring place.

Thesis, why this matters: Unfortunately, when it comes to communicating, we are often like the flatlanders.  In print, in pictures, or via the web; we are often stuck in flatland.  This is because we often underestimate the number of dimensions available to us. 

Preview: This speech is about the dimensions of communication.  Specifically the dimensions used to graph data or make web pages.  I will begin by discussing what I mean by a dimension.  Then we will talk of ways in which people underestimate the available dimensions.  We will conclude by discussing some ideas for breaking out of flatland.


I. So what are we talking about when we discuss dimensions?

A. A dimension simply refers to a quantity that can vary independently of other quantities.  We are free to assign it whatever value we want.  It has a certain freedom from other quantities.

1. Let me again turn to an outside source to reinforce this point.  Let me quote from Kevin Devlin’s book, Mathematics: The Science of Patterns.” 

DIMENSIONS QUOTE (Devlin, p. 139)

Transition: So in most situations there are many more dimensions than 3.

B. Consider this room.  Imagine we had to recreate this room somewhere else.  And not just this room, but the events in the room.  What are some of the dimensions we would have to consider?

1. 3 spatial dimensions, color, temperature, sound, smell [cookies], taste [floor], time, weight/gravity

Transition: And this list really underestimates the number of dimensions.

2. Color for example has 3D (RGB, Hue Sat Bright), Sound is 2D, Taste (sweet, salty, sour, bitter), Smell (According to James Kalat’s, Intro to Psych, “the nose has at least a hundred types of olfactory receptors, and probably several hundred.”) (Kalat, p.148)  So smell, just smell alone, could be composed of hundreds of dimensions.

Transition: So now we know what dimensions are, and that there are many of them.  Is it really true that…

II. …people ignore most of these dimensions when creating graphs or web pages.  I believe it is!  Let me quickly site a couple sources that seem to agree that people underestimate dimensions.

A. “The way that users conceptualize the Web is manifested in the language and metaphors they use to describe the Web itself.  May describe the Web as a three-dimensional space with specific locations.” (Hunt, p.377)

Just think of that.  The web with text, motion, sound, images is considered to have only 3 dimensions.  Bizarre!

Transition: This is also true when it comes to graphing data.

B. I have heard many people say, for example, “this data set has 4 dimensions so I can’t plot it.”  I have said this myself.  But I’m here to tell you it just isn’t so.

III.  Let me end by showing some examples of how people have broken out of flatland.

A. 6D POLUTION GRAPH (Morgan, p. 254-5)

[show to class, discuss]


[show to class, discuss]


[show to class, discuss]


So where have we been. 

Recap: We have talked about what a dimension is, and how many hidden dimensions are all around us.  But unfortunately, people often underestimate the available dimensions.  It is very easy to get stuck in flatland.  Always remember: the world is not just 3D.  But we have also seen some example graphs that make use of these hidden dimensions.  The Geologic data graph, for example, displayed 12 dimension on a sheet of paper.  And I’m sure you could go much higher than that… 

Personal Appeal: When communicating, we do not have to remain in flatland.  Make sure you do your part to break out of flatland.  Thank you!

Works Cited

Chernoff, Herman  “The Use of Faces to Represent Points in k-Dimensional Space Graphically.”  Journal of the American Statistical Association.  68 (1973): 361-368.

Edwin A. Abbott. Flatland:  A Romance Of Many Dimensions.  Project Gutenberg. (1999, originally published 1884).

Devlin, Keith.  Mathematics: The Science of Patterns.  New York: Scientific American Library, 1994.

Hunt, Kevin.  “Establishing a Presence of the World Wide Web: A Rhetorical Approach.”  Technical Communication.  (1996): 376-387.

Kalat, James W.  Introduction to Psychology.  4th ed.  New York: Brooks/Cole Publishing, 1996.

Morgan, M. Granger and Max Henrion.  Uncertainty: A Guide to Dealing with Uncertainty in Quantitative Risk and Policy Analysis.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Tufte, Edward R.  The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.  Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press, 1983.

Copyright 2000, Wayne Pafko