Try tapping a song for someone else – chances that the person you are tapping it for gets it right is 2.5%. What makes a lot of sense to you, because you have the song playing in your head – sounds like total gibberish to others. The same is true when you meet someone online for the first time – their chosen handle may symbolize some imagery for you that was totally unintended by that person.
The difference here is that we all interpret signals based on the context we have. And when our context is different, we interpret things differently. A different context is also the main cause for friction and conflict between people.
In the past, there was a higher likelihood that people’s context in a particular geographic region was somewhat similar – there were only a limited amount of TV programs and radio shows, people had a much more limited supply of books and newspapers, music preferences were more uniform, there were fewer options for schooling and there were less churches to choose from. Now on the other hand, much of the popular culture is consumed through 100’s of cable channels or through the internet, you can read books that are self-published and reach audiences in the 100’s of people, you can read any newspaper in the world online or get your news from specialized blogs, you can pick from music bands that self-publish their music on social networking sites and have fan clubs in the tens or hundreds of people, and you can come up with educational programs that are totally unique to you. Add to that the increased mobility of people and the ongoing trend towards more extreme and fractioned faith-based groups – and you have a world when there is almost no shared context anymore. It’s what Wired Editor Chris Anderson calls the long tail…except that perhaps there are more people moving into the long tail now that it can be served.
Marketers, advertisers, communicators and politicians have been struggling with this phenomenon for a few years now – mostly because the old ways of “framing” issues does not work in a world where people’s context or “world-view” is so vastly different from one another.
A world populated with people that have very different contexts should also be a world where innovation explodes – or is Kathy Sierra right when she says that the “wisdom of crowds” mostly results in safe, well-balanced and non-offensive solutions?
What do you think?