Jocelyn K. Glei on Why Context is the Future of Content

 

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Jocelyn K. Glei. Photo Credit: Jonny Marlow. Via: (jkglei.com)

 

The concept of content and context, and how they can shape the way we experience our reality have been circulating on my mind lately. A couple of days ago, I wrote an article about this topic, heavily inspired by the talk that Alan Webber gave at the CreativeMornings.

Webber’s theory is that content needs to be replaced by context because as he says, “Content, today, is a commodity. It’s really, a very low value offer. What do we value? What creates value? What creates value is context.”

Webber is not the only one who thinks that the concept of “content” is meaningless. Jocelyn K Glei, a writer and the host of Podcast “Hurry Slowly”, agrees wholeheartedly with what Webber says about the uselessness of “content,” especially in steering us towards the meaningful and away from the meaningless. Speaking as a writer who writes mainly and always compellingly about creativity, Jocelyn is aware that absorbing more content doesn’t make us more creative, and content only looks for what is viral, not what is important in the grand scheme of things. What we need, she argues, is more context, and context is the future of content.

Speaking with Paul Jun from Own Your Content, a project that calls creatives to express what they mean when they talk about content, Jocelyn explains what she means when she says that context is the future of content.

Here is the transcript of the interview:

Paul Jun: “What does the future of content look to you?”

Jocelyn Glei: “This is the part where I confess that I actively hate the word ‘content.’ Content is a word that was invented by people who want to create boxes that they can sell ads around, and they had to come up with a name for what goes in the box, and that word was ‘content.’

In other words, if you’re using the word ‘content’ that means you really don’t have a vision for what you’re making. Because creating good content requires specificity: it requires a point of view and strong writing and the right package to frame it, to catch someone’s attention, and to inspire trust. This is no easy task.

But to set semantics aside and actually answer your question…The future of content, in my opinion, is all about creating context. We are bombarded with so much information from so many channels every single day, that people crave editorial that can actually help them make sense of everything. We get so much of our ‘content’ in these little bursts now–be it an email, a tweet, a blog post. But it’s always this little bite-sized, isolated bit of information. We rarely understand how it actually fits into our lives.

Given this, I think what’s needed are curators, editors, writers, filmmakers, etc who can really zoom out from that narrow perspective and take the long view. Who can do some of that sense-making for people so that they understand how this political development fits into the long arc of history, or how developing this particular habit will give their life meaning in the long run. The future of content is about creating a rich, well-thought-out context that makes it possible for people to really process and synthesize ideas in depth–not in this surface-y way we’re all accustomed to now.”

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Jocelyn K. Glei. Photo Credit: Jonny Marlow. Via: (jkglei.com)

 

Read the full interview here: Own Your Content.

And if you haven’t subscribed to Jocelyn’s well-curated and compelling weekly newsletter, I beg you to hit the subscribe button and wait for her generous and passionate work to land into your inbox: Jkglei’s newsletter.

Or you can also follow her on Twitter: @jkglei

Alan Webber Loves Context: The Founder of Fast Company on the Value of Context in Our Content Overload World

 

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Image by Edwin Andrade. Via: (Unsplash)

 

If you spend the majority of your waking hours on the internet, there’s a term that you will likely hear: content. Despite its wild popularity, I’m not fond of this term. It makes me uncomfortable because when we are talking about content, we are talking about something that is superficial, doesn’t last very long, and created for only the sake of gaining more viewers instead of enriching the viewers’ minds.

Contents are articles like these: Every College Student During Winter Break, as Told by ‘Elf’ or College Students Love Fast Food So Choose From These 16 Fast Food Restaurants to Decide Your Major. It can also be videos like these: Gold Digger Prank or Psycho Dad Chainsaws Xbox One. They are everywhere, residing on every corner of the Internet.

There’s a quote that I have leaned into from Maria Popova, one of my absolute favorite minds and wisdom curators:

“How we choose to pay attention, and relate to information and each other shapes who we become, shapes our creative destiny and, in turn, shapes our experience of the world and, in my mind, there’s nothing more important than that.”

If we only choose to pay attention to content, how could we expect ourselves to be smarter and even wiser? This is the question we must collectively ponder as an individual, family, community, and even nation.

Then what’s the alternative if content won’t help us to be smarter, wiser? Allan Webber, the founder of Fast Company, says that content should be replaced by context. We don’t need more content. What we need is the maximum amount of context. Through his speech “Why Context is More Important Than Content,” Webber is not only drawing the distinction between content and context, but also he talks that creating context is the responsibility for all of us, regardless of our job titles.

He begins the speech with a stark, and yet often overlooked distinction between content and context:

“Content, today, is a commodity. It’s really, a very low value offer. What do we value? What creates value? What creates value is context. Context asks why. Context seeks to explain what is going on in the world so that we can make sense of it. Context takes this commodity [content] and transforms it into meaning. So think about your own experience either as an employee or as a boss. Think about it in any organization you’ve been a part of. Somebody comes to you or you produce a power point and you put it up and it’s got a lot of data. And the data informs the boss or informs you of a bunch of numbers that you’re supposed to then do something about. That employee who brought you that data is a very low value employee. That is somebody who’s bringing you content but what you’re really paying for is context. So you ask that employee, why should I care about this? What does it mean? What’s the story behind the data? And that’s context. That explains what is important. What you’re willing to pay for as a boss or in the world of magazines are not the facts anymore, is not the data anymore. It’s what it all means, how to interpret it.”

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The First Edition of Fast Company 1995. Via: (FastCompany.com)

 

Webber sees that many newspapers and magazines circulate their ideas superficially. They give us the news that many of us already have. In other words, as he said, “They’re fundamentally in the content business, they’re not in the context business.”

He explains:

“And if you track the demise of many magazines and many newspapers, they’re fundamentally in the content business, they’re not in the context business so they went out of business because people already have “the news.” The news is twenty-four seven. What’s not twenty-four seven is how do I make sense of the news. Why is it happening. What’s your point of view about why it’s happening. Help me understand how I as an individual can organize my mental frame work for the news that’s going on around me. The publications that are either surviving or adapting ask why, explain point of view, and then offer you a conversation with it about how you make sense and give it a feedback.”

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Image by RawPixel. Via: (Unspalsh)

 

I like to think that a content creator is someone who collects the dots (data or information) and presents them as they are without too much transformation. This is what we usually receive from social media and any news organizations that we follow. A content creator makes our world awash with information. Sadly, much of his information is unnecessary. It can only muddle our understanding of the world.

On the other hand, a context creator is someone who takes the work of a content creator to the next level. A context creator doesn’t only collect the dots, but also she cross pollinates from one idea to another idea. Eventually, she will excavate meaning from this new connected idea as a way to help her readers to make sense of a new event. 

A context creator’s work is challenging, hard, but it’s the work of generosity. if the work is done properly, I believe, it will outlive the creator.

Creating context means creating stories, and we, humans, are storytelling creatures. Echoing Elizabeth Svoboda’s concept of the power of story that says, “Stories allow us to travel, time and again, outside the circumscribed spaces of what we believe and what we think possible. It is these journeys–sometimes tenuous, sometimes exhilarating–that inspire and steel us to navigate uncharted territories in real life,” Webber argues:

“Stories are how we learn. Stories are how we express our values. Stories are how we connect to each other. Stories are about people. They’re not about things. Stories are about actions that people take to make a difference. And because stories are how we connect with each other, they’re how we make meaning of our lives. They provide context. They provide connections. They provide community. In the business sense, if you wanna talk about business for a second, they’re [stories] how we create brands. Brands are stories that we tell, brands are promises that we make as business people.”

Webber takes this topic of content and context as something that lie beyond the world of business and magazine. He wholeheartedly believes that creating context is what most leaders must do. He says:

“What we really talking about when we describe context and making meaning isn’t just the work of business or a company or a magazine. What we really talking about is leadership. One of my other rule of thumbs in this book [Rules of Thumbs: How to Stay Productive and Inspired Even in the Most Turbulent Times] is that leadership is not just about making decisions. There’s a part of that that’s true. We expect people in position of responsibility to make decisions. But more important than making decisions is making meaning, is helping everybody make sense out of a complex world.”

After all, making context is also what every citizen must also do.

“As citizens, we are called upon to help each other to separate the signal from the noise to decide what’s really matter to us as a community, as a group of people who are trying to solve problems together and make better decisions together.”

The original video can be accessed here:

Websites that have been consistently producing context over content are: BrainPickings, On Being, Farnam Street, The Tim Ferriss Show, Design Matters, Wait But Why, Long Form, and BBC Food Programme.

Seth Godin on How to Raise Our Children in the Internet World

 

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At the annual gathering of my family, one of my relatives asked me a simple yet profound question after having seen a chubby toddler playing games on his iPhone (Or maybe his father’s iPhone?). His question was: How soon can we introduce children to technology?

That’s an excellent question, and a question that we should all be collectively pondering as a community and a family. With the rise of the internet and our technological devices, children, sooner or later, with or without their parent’s permission, will discover technology and quickly engage to it.

Though this question “How soon can we introduce children to technology?” serves as a starting question that can get us into the conversation about this topic, the next question that we must ask is: Given that those children are in the world of technology and internet, how do we help them to understand its beauty and its power to create something meaningful? 

Seth Godin, one of the most original and helpful voices on the landscape of technology and parenting, has the answer to the questions I presented above. On the podcast On Being, Godin, and the host, Krista Tippett, contemplated ways we can help our children to be more inquisitive and creative in this “interconnected world.”

Here is the transcript:

Tippett: You know, you’re also raising children in this time. So how does that–how does parenting–how do your kids who are growing up in this post-industrial, post-geography world–you know, how do they continue to feed and inform your sense of what this means and what’s at stake and what’s possible?

Godin: You know, if you spend time with technically connected 15-year-old, you’re going to discover a bunch of things. First of all, many of them don’t watch any television whatsoever. But they consume more video than ever before.

Tippett: That’s true, yeah.

Godin:  Um, and–and most of them are not concerned whatsoever about Dunbar’s number and this notion that they can only have 150 friends and family, or else their brain melts. They have 1,000 people that they’re connected with or 5,000 people. And they are living a life out loud. And some people are responding to that by saying, I don’t care. I’ll put up pictures of me drinking out of a funnel. And I will, you know, act out, because it’s in the world–I’m just going to do it and that’s fine.

And others–and I’m very lucky to live with two of them–are saying, wow, what a chance for me to contribute to this circle, and to organize to this circle. That here’s a stage and I’m not going to put on a play, but I am going to organize something, whether it’s, you know, helping to build something with Habitat for Humanity or putting a technical innovation into the world. And so as parents, we’re often pushed to make this choice. 

And the choice is–keep your kids out of the connection world and isolate them and make sure they’re “safe.” Or put your kids into the world and, you know, all hell will break lose. Those are the things that they talk about at the PTA meeting. And I don’t think that’s the choice. I think the choice is everyone is in the world now. Everyone is connected. You cannot keep your 12-year-old from hearing profanity.

Tippett: Yeah, right.

Godin: You know, get over it. But given that they’re in the world, what trail are they going to leave? What mark are they leaving? Are they doing it just to get into college? Or are they doing it because they understand that their role as a contributor to society starts now when they’re 10, not when they’re 24. And that the trail they leave behind starts the minute someone snaps their picture.

And if we can teach children that there isn’t this bright line between off duty and on duty, but that the life is life and you ought to live it like people are looking at you, because they are, then we trust them. And we trust them to be bigger than they could be because they choose to be bigger. And it’s that teaching, I think, that is so difficult to do as a parent. Because what you really want to do is protect them and lock ’em up until it’s time. But the bravest thing to do is have these free-range kids who are exploring the edges of their universe, but doing it in a way that they’re proud of, not hiding from.

You can listen to the whole conversation, worth listening to over and over: