Wednesday, May 31, 2006

More on context

Browsing across various posts today, I was reminded again of the importance of context to the understanding and interpretation of information. What the majority pick up on in the media are the headlines (which may or may not reflect the trus nature of the story content) and the snippets of written material as they are summarized by radio or TV newscasts.

So, people will pick up on the supposed "fact" that another study has shown yet another common food product to be "carcingenic" and thus something the healthy and sensible should avoid in their diets. Few will dig deep enough to discover that the studies are invalid and that the product's alleged problems are illusory. And don't expect to see a follow up in the media rescinding the alarm.

A similar example exists with the documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room which adopts a Micheal Moore approach to its subject: not letting the facts intrude on a pre-conceived explanation. Subsequently, many who see the film will come away missing the opportunity to understand how and why the Enron scandal occurred.

Context requires the consumer of information to individually process what they are hearing or reading through their own set of organizational constructs. If we fail to program our own minds, the prevailing, dominant belief systems will do it for us. Stasis prevails in the absence of context, in the negation of free thought and in the subjugation of individuality.

As the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard stated "People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they never use".