If you've ever gotten in trouble for sending a text to the wrong person, you know what a minefield communication can be. Without the help of non-verbal cues (a horrified look or an eyeroll), you're essentially flying blind. Alan experiences exactly this when he arrives at KAEC. He's met with icy stares from the workers in the Black Box and has to concede that his old sales tactics aren't going to work on foreign soil.
Alan's lack of cultural context leads him to make appalling social gaffes (joking about being CIA? Come on!), nearly start a multi-national war (the cell phone incident), and miss out on what could have been the love of his life.
But it's more than simply missing out on social cues. Alan's alienation from the world throughout A Hologram For the King makes reaching out nearly impossible for him. Perhaps his joking really does mean, as Ruby claims, that he has nothing left to say.
Questions About Language and Communication
Why is Ruby so against Alan's joking?
Why does Alan so badly misinterpret King Abdullah's intentions toward Reliant?
What part does Alan's difficulty in communicating with others play in his "internal deadness"?
Why does Alan continue to write letters to Kit? What is he trying to accomplish by writing them?
Chew on This
Alan's new inability to communicate well with others ultimately dooms him to failure in Saudi Arabia.
Eggers' work points up how communication and interpersonal relationships have moved into uncertain territory no matter how connected we are by technology.