Closed captioning was intended to help those with a hearing impairment be able to enjoy television and movies, but it’s use extends far beyond a specific demographic. Are you a parent of littles? You might not want to turn up the TV and disrupt the peace of naptime, but you can turn the volume down and read along instead. And although closed captioning isn’t the most reliable in capturing the exact words of the show, some simple shows with closed captioning can help early readers learn—or people learning a second language. Closed captioning helps us understand a movie with heavy accents or understand what’s going on even when there is noise around us. I thought I knew a lot of the lyrics of the Hamilton musical because I listened to the soundtrack often, but I realized how much I had missed when I watched it with closed captions.
I sometimes wonder how helpful (and terrifying) it would be to have closed captioning in everyday life. What if there was a real-time ticker that showed up about each person’s head as they spoke, revealing what they really mean by the words they speak? A decoder of sorts to peek into the motivations and emotions behind the words. It would be helpful at times. We’d understand the angry person is scared or sad or overwhelmed. We’d know the person being nice to us might have ulterior motives. We’ll catch deception a lot earlier before it erodes the relationship. We might do some damage with our immediate responses to what the closed captioning reveals. We might also become more intentional about our communication.
Obviously, this isn’t possible, but what if we asked more questions for clarity and chose to be more intentional with our words? Maybe even the consideration of closed captioning would keep us in check as well as help us understand. Maybe it would improve our interactions and relationships.