Text and Context

You see the words text and context together a lot. At least, they are implicitly intertwined. In simple terms, the text is what is being read and the context is the environment, nature and circumstances under which that text is being translated. This isn’t limited to words. Many, many things are text. In fact, some people think that all things are text. I agree, to a limited degree, but that’s an entirely different can of worms.

The thing is, the text is very difficult to remove from the context. In many ways, the meaning of the text, what you are reading, is created by the context. Let’s look at an example… Say you see a “Slippery when wet” warning sign. Its context informs its meaning entirely. There is a simple social meaning , sort of. Something in the vicinity of this sign is or was probably wet and, under those circumstances, is slippery. Where the sign is and how it is placed is part of the context, as well. If the sign is folded up in the corner, then it’s probably not warning you of anything, merely informing you of its location for future use. If it’s on the floor, you might want to be careful, or at least check to see if the floor is indeed still wet. Furthermore, the meaning is altered even further if the pictograph of the slipping person is removed or altered. I think you’ll agree that the meaning changes drastically if the image is posted on a shirt, a pair of underwear or under the caption, “Caution: Break Dancing.”

So, what does this mean and why am I blathering on about it? Among other things, it leads back to my preference for texting, how i communicate and writing. Emotions are a powerful force that affect people in drastic ways. While they can be lovely things if heeded and managed correctly, they can also be stunting and devastatingly destructive to a person’s life. That being understood, I like to give people leeway to express and deal with their emotions when communicating.

You have to understand that people, yes, even you, are led around by the nose a bit by emotions, at some times more than others.  They can affect how we say things and why. The resultant difference is part of context. If you spend enough time observing people, then you’ll notice some things pretty easily. They’ll raise their eyebrow, twitch a muscle, tense and relax, breathe at different rates, glance, fidget and squirm, smile, frown and bounce up and down. Humans are writhing piles of context. But, what does that context do when it comes to informing meaning? How reliable is it?

For that, we need another example. Let’s say, you’re at work! That’s different. While you’re chatting with a co-worker, you notice that she’s standing a bit hunched, her shoulders are tense and she’s favoring one arm more than the other. Diagnosing the context here can be difficult because people liiiiiiiie. We’ll look at that in a second, but let’s look at possible causes. She could be creeped out. Her back might be tense from over-work. She might be injured. She may be angry with you. The thought she’s mulling over may be upsetting her. She may be stressed out. She might be sleeping somewhere extremely uncomfortable. She might be very hungry because she hasn’t eaten, resulting in low blood sugar, creating moodiness. She might be having a very mild stroke. You never know. You might be able to ask, but will you get the truth? If you do, will you believe it or will how she answers color your perception? Remember, she might be upset at you and covering it up. In that case, she might not want to say anything to avoid upsetting you. She might be crash-dieting causing stress and low blood-sugar, but she may also be too embarrassed to tell you about her eating problems. Her emotions at the time will also change the answer she gives you, true or false, and the wording she uses. Body language is context.

The better you become at reading people and the more possibilities you realize exist, the more complicated having a simple conversation becomes. Even witnessing a conversation can be a nightmare waiting to happen. I’ve found several ways to cope with this. I consciously do not to analyze friends and co-workers.  It just makes things awkward for everyone involved. People rely on the the privacy of their mind to keep them sane. Besides, it’s disrespectful to pry where you’re not wanted. Sometimes, though, you’ll need to talk to someone and you’re not going to be able to help yourself, because it’ll be too important.

In that case, I like typing and texting. The beautiful thing about the written language is the license it gives you to explain exactly what you mean, while taking exactly as much time as you need to, to do it. It’s not something people take enough advantage of, I think, especially when it comes to delicate topics. It may seem impersonal, but it’s honestly better than flubbing an important conversation, or realizing that the words coming out of your conversation partner’s mouth are only true in the short-term. Typing makes you think twice about what you’re saying and removes you from the situation. There you are free to act, think and say whatever you wish, until you realize exactly what you mean. Then, you can be clear and honest. It’s beautiful, really.

Those of you who may think this approach is in-genuine really need to think about what it means to “be” a “person.” We aren’t ready-formed personalities with identities and labels all made up. We’re constantly in the act of creating ourselves, with greater or lesser effectiveness. Trying to be someone you’re not may be one way to put it, but I prefer: trying to improve yourself. What’s wrong with trying to be the best you can be in a given situation? Eventually, with the right intentions and some dedication, you may find that the words you’ve made yourself type have wormed their way into your vocal vocabulary and the philosophy by which you live. Well, maybe. It’s worth a shot. Think twice before you type!

Under these circumstances, outright lying is totally possible and somewhat more difficult to detect, but that’s for another post. The “E” and apostrophe keys on my keyboard are malfunctioning and need to be maintenanced. I’ll post again when I get my new computer! ❤

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