Saturday, August 29, 2015

"The More Elaborate our Means of Communication, the Less we Communicate" J. Priestley

I have often seen the quote offered in the title of this post attributed to Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), the famous 18th century British-American polymath who was the first to report the isolation of the gas Oxygen.  It has never sat right with me.  I have studied much about Joseph Priestley's life and it just didn't seem like there was much in the way of "elaborating" communication that had transpired before or during his lifetime other than the invention of movable type and the printing press in the 15th century.  I had often thought that a more probable candidate for the quote was J(ohn). B(oynton). Priestley (1894-1994), the famous twentieth century British novelist and broadcaster.  He was certainly alive during a period of rapid change in communications technology; as a broadcaster was most certainly aware of communications skills; and, as a novelist he could certainly elaborate upon all this.

 I have found two quotations, one is the title of this post and the other, almost identical, which, at first blush, looks identical, “The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate”.  The second quote has an additional "we" as the third word.   Of the numerous sources I have found they attribute each of these quotations to either J. B. Priestley, or Joseph Priestley (by the way, most are attributed to Joseph Priestley).  Interestingly, though, the quoters are not unanimous on which is attributable to each person. Not one quoter has actually cited the primary source (by primary source, I mean the actual publication by the respective author). I have found it hard to believe that these two people with almost identical names, each uttered almost identical quotes. I also find it hard to believe that I could not find the actual source of the quotation. 

I am proud to announce that, after a considerable search, I have now found the proper attribution and wording for the quote: “The more we elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.”  See Baden Eunson, Communicating in the 21st Century, in reference to Priestley’s Paradox.  The source reference for the quote is J.B. Priestley, Thoughts in the Wilderness,   Heinemann, 1957, p. 201. 

And, of course, the photo above is that of the author of the quote, J. B. Priestley.  May he rest in peace.


  1. Been looking all over for the primary source of this quote. Good work!

  2. Wow! He must have been wise... he was 161 years old according to this page!
    I suggest an amendment to his year of death. Joseph Priestly died in 1804.