The importance of context

Today’s world is one of technology based communication. This means that often times communication is not done face to face and therefore context can be lacking

“They’re not dino shaped, though.”

That statement was confusing for multiple reasons, the main one being that it simply lacked context. 

We, as people, rely on context a lot more than we think. We live in an age where we can talk to people with the press of a button, and when we don’t feel like face to face interaction, we text using acronyms and abbreviations. 

A good example of the importance of context is the first sentence of this article. The story behind it is that one friend got a dino shaped waffle maker and wanted to take it to another friend’s house when they went to hang out. Sadly, they forgot the waffle maker. Optimistically the other friend said they had waffles, but the friend who forgot their waffle maker objected and said, “they’re not dino shaped though.”

We have become so used to this that we don’t consider how important context is to a lot of the conversations we have. 

The definition of “context,” according to Oxford Languages, is “the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea and in terms of which it can be understood or assessed.”

Probably the most common use of context would be understanding cues in a conversation, such as when to switch topics or when the other person finds something you said to be interesting or amusing. This context is the kind that shows itself physically and helps guide how we interact with people on a day to day basis. 

Think of inside jokes as an example. How many times have you been in a social setting and heard one person say something seemingly random and meaningless to another person and then the person they said it to starts hysterically laughing? The other person had the context of the inside joke, and so to them it was funny, but to you it made no sense. You lacked context in this situation that would have clarified what was going on and why it was so funny.

We rely on context to understand more than just conversations, stories and jokes. Having context can also explain action. What is the context in which an action hero in a movie does what they do or why the president addresses the nation? Without it the actions of people would seem random or  have no solid reasoning behind them.   

Another use for context is understanding the depth and severity of a situation. The broader context here would allow you to understand why something is as serious as its being made to be. It would allow you to become aware of the severity even if what is happening doesn’t directly affect you in any way.  

Context helps us to understand the world around us.