Content is king but without context (the queen!) its often worthless
Just like in chess, where the queen is essential for thoughtful and calculated moves, context gives content purpose and direction.
Content needs context to make a meaningful impact.
- The pandemic of content overload
- Gen AI + cookie cutter content on steroids
- The dangers of content without proper context
- Examples of when lack of context causes real harm
- The Role of Context in Unlocking the Power of Content
- What L&D teams can learn from this
The pandemic of content overload
The amount of information available to us today is staggering.
By 2025, the world will have produced enough content to fill five Libraries of Congress or nearly 16 zettabytes of data.
While this abundance of content presents us with unprecedented opportunities, it also poses a challenge: how can we make sense of it all? Without the right context, content can become overwhelming, confusing, and even dangerous.
Content paralysis is a legit issue, people.
Context is the compass that reveals how we can make sense of it all.
When you have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve and who you’re trying to reach, suddenly all that content becomes a whole lot more useful.
I think about this a lot (probably too much) for the L&D world.
I speak with lots of practitioners who are on a hamster wheel of either trying to survive the content avalanche of their libraries or doing the ill-advised act of creating more content to combat the poor quality of current content.
Before we carry on, let me frame the problem with more relatable data.
The team at Askwonder delved into the scale of content consumption in their article “How much Information do we Learn Everyday?”. They unpacked the content consumption of an average American.
The team shared “According to a report by the University of California–San Diego, the average American consumes about 34 gigabytes of data & information every day. That estimated to be the equivalent of 100,000 words heard or read every day– or about how many words in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit (95,356 words).”
This is a phenomenal stat considering I could barely read The Hobbit over the last decade let alone in one day!
Comparing this to activities today, the team found you can use the 34GB of data to stream every episode of popular Netflix hit Stranger Things, 15,000 hours of playtime in video game Fortnite and 94hrs worth of doom-scrolling on TikTok.Askwonder
Gen AI + cookie cutter content on steroids
It’s a sign of the times when you can’t write an article without writing the sacred words of AI.
I’m not fully endorsed in the cult of AI (yet). I’m certainly on the outskirts of looking in and asking, what is this buzz all about? Jokes aside, I’m excited about generative AI. Yet, it also brings the tsunami cookie cutter content creation (a quadruple threat 😉).
You’ve probably seen a lot of it on your social feeds, blogs and even emails. It’s generally poor-quality and the every day humans use of generative AI tools is taking this to a new level.
As much as AI can fuel more content, it can also save us.
It can do this by providing context. If used in the right way, AI can summarise, define and be precise on the context of content you consume. Thus, saving you the precious non-renewable life force we call time.
We’ll talk about AI as a context partner throughout this journey.
The dangers of content without proper context
“Information without context is like a fish out of water. It may look good, but it’s not going to survive.”Howard Rheingold, Author and Critic | Quote from Crap Detection 101″ on his website Rheingold.com.
If content is our map and context is our compass. I’m sure you can imagine the dangers of being in a jungle area with an analog map alone (Google isn’t available in jungles, as far as I know).
Here’s the ways content can go wrong:
Without context, content can be taken out of context, leading to misinformation and misunderstandings. This can cause confusion, mistrust, and even harm.
- Confirmation Bias
Without context, content can reinforce our pre-existing beliefs and biases, leading to confirmation bias. This can limit our understanding of complex issues and prevent us from considering alternative perspectives.
Without context, we may consume too much content, leading to information overload. This can cause stress, fatigue, and a lack of productivity.
Without context, content may lack accuracy, leading to inaccuracies and errors. This can damage credibility and reputation, particularly in the case of news and information sources.
- Unintended Consequences
Without context, content may be misinterpreted, leading to unintended consequences. This can have negative effects on individuals, communities, and society as a whole.
Examples of when lack of context causes real harm
“Context is everything. It is what makes content relevant and separates signal from noise.”Brian Solis, Digital Analyst and Author. What’s the Future of Business? Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (2013).
We’ve spoken about how it can go wrong, but what happens when it actually does? What are the real-world consequences?
Here’s some recent examples to bring colour to this for you:
In 2020, false claims about the connection between 5G technology and COVID-19 were circulating on social media. Many people took these claims out of context and believed them to be true, leading to an increase in attacks on 5G towers and a spread of misinformation.
- Confirmation Bias
During the 2016 US presidential election, fake news stories were widely shared on social media. Many of these stories were shared by people with a particular political affiliation, reinforcing their pre-existing beliefs and biases.
According to research, the average person spends over three hours on their phone each day. This constant consumption of content can lead to information overload and a lack of productivity.
In 2021, a clip of a speech by US Vice President Kamala Harris went viral on social media.
The clip appeared to show Harris saying “we will not let up, and we will not give up” in reference to the COVID-19 pandemic, leading some to accuse her of advocating for continued lockdowns.
However, the clip was taken out of context, as Harris was actually referring to the need to continue to push for vaccine distribution and other measures to combat the pandemic.
The full context of the speech was not immediately clear, and it took further investigation and analysis to understand what Harris was really saying.
- Unintended Consequences
In 2018, Elon Musk tweeted that he had secured funding to take Tesla private at a price of $420 per share.
The tweet was taken out of context, and it was unclear whether Musk was serious or joking. The tweet had unintended consequences, causing Tesla’s stock price to surge and prompting an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Musk was fined and forced to step down as Chairman of Tesla’s board as a result.
The Role of Context in Unlocking the Power of Content
“Content is king, but context is god.”Gary Vaynerchuk, Entrepreneur | Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World (2013).
Ok, we’ve covered the perils of when content goes wrong. Now lets look at the other side of the coin when we add context to the mix. Context gives content meaning and relevance, and enables us to use it effectively.
1/ Clear Intent and Relevance
Content must have a clear purpose and be relevant to the user’s needs.
Without clear intent, content can be irrelevant or even misleading. This is why knowing your audience matters. Consider what they need to know and why. Apply that same thinking to your own consumption.
Content that tries to please everyone should be discarded.
Trying to please everyone is a fast road to providing nothing for nobody. Being precise about who you’re content is for is not only smart but necessary. The same goes for your own content engagements, avoid the obvious hyperbole – ask, is this content worth the exchange of my time?
Content that is trustworthy, credible, and reliable always wins.
Being able to write with credibility is crucial. Knowing whose words you’re reading is too. The bar to create content is so low anyone can share anything. This is both incredible and complex.
Context gives clarity on credibility of content.
What problem is this content solving? I feel we never ask this enough.
Think about it. We each exchange moments of our life to engage with a piece of content, so it makes sense to know it’s going to deliver value, right?
Reading another article highlighting obvious content or someone getting on their soapbox for a good old moan might be entertaining but it’s not great for improvement.
If we’re going to invest, we need to know what we get in return. Is the juice worth the squeeze? (as an annoying former manager used to tell me). By providing practical applications for content through context, we can increase its relevance and impact.
Again, we see how context helps users make the most of the content they consume.
What L&D teams can learn from this
I don’t think this is just for L&D teams.
You could apply this to other careers and generally life. We all take part in the content-driven world.
Here’s a few things I’d recommend fellow L&D pros consider:
Give people the necessary context to help them understand the purpose and relevance of the content.
This could include providing background information, explaining how the content fits into a larger learning curriculum, or offering examples of how the content can be applied in the workplace.
Before sharing any content ensure that it is accurate and reliable.
Take the time to fact-check and review the content to avoid sharing misinformation or inaccuracies that could lead to confusion or misunderstandings. This is far too common with learning content today.
Consider the source
Always consider the credibility of sources.
Ensure the sources are reputable and trustworthy, and avoid sharing content from questionable or unreliable sources.
Tailor content to the audience
Keep the needs and interests of your audience top of mind.
Tailor the content to their level of expertise and knowledge, and provide content that is relevant and useful to their roles and responsibilities. No obvious, non-specific dribble here, folks.
Encourage critical thinking
Encourage people to think critically about the content they consume.
Teach them to ask questions, consider the source and the context, and evaluate the content for accuracy and reliability. This will help them become more discerning consumers of content and better learners overall.
We need more of this in my opinion.
- Content without context is useless.
- Clear intent and context are necessary for content to be helpful.
- Don’t peddle low-quality content from non-credible sources
- Curate and create with care.
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