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.

Milton Glaser on the Problem with New Ideas, Overcoming Creative Block, and Doing Good Work as an Artist

 

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Milton Glaser. Via: (FLICKR)

 

Milton Glaser is one of the most celebrated and revered Graphic Designers in the world. If you have not seen any of his work,  check out his iconic I ♥ NY logo and Bob Dylan poster for Columbia record, to name a few. In a recent interview with Creative Boom, an online art magazine based in Manchester, UK, Glaser sat down with Katy Cowan and he generously shared what he has learned throughout his life about his intense and passionate engagement with the world of graphic design. The conversation covers so many insightful topics but I decided to highlight some of my favorites such as: the impracticality of new ideas, overcoming creative block, and the best advice he’s ever received.

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I Love NY Campaign by Milton Glaser. Via: (MiltonGlaser.com)

 

On the problem with finding new ideas:

“The problem really is that there are too many ideas. The question is how do you avoid new ideas as well as deal with the ones you know and make them deeper and more penetrating and more significant. The new is not always the most beneficial realm although in many areas of communication the new is useful because it engages people or surprises people or compels them to ask, what was that question? In any case, the question of finding new ideas is irrelevant.”

When he was asked, “Do you ever suffer from creative block? And if so, what do you do to overcome it?” Glaser says that we need to embrace creative block as a natural part of creative process, because, at the end, it can lead us to a place that can fuel our work.

He says:

“I embrace it. When you are blocked, you know you have something to do. And also it is not a permanent condition. A block basically leads you elsewhere and very frequently that is precisely what is needed. A block comes from doing the same thing too many times and running out of gas. As I frequently quote Picasso, ‘once you’ve mastered something, you can abandon it.'”

In consonance with Patti Smith’s advice to any aspiring artist, the best advice Glaser has ever received came from his junior high school teacher. It’s about doing good work, exerting oneself devotedly to one’s own work and forgetting the result because, at the end, as one wise man said, “Doing the work is enough.

“Do good work. It’s advice my junior high school teacher once told me after he understood that I was not going to be a scientist. I had chosen the road of art. Nevertheless, he gave me a box of contact crayons and told me ‘do good work.’ Those words have never diminished in my mind.”

The whole conversation is fantastic! As I was doing research on his life for my blog, I came upon this video about him created by Hilman Curtis.

 

The most poignant lines:

“I think the most interesting thing that one can say about one’s later life is that if you can sustain your interest in what you’re doing, you’re an extremely fortunate person. What you see very frequently in people’s professional lives, and perhaps in their emotional life as well, is that they lose interest in the third act. You sort of get tired, and indifferent, and sometimes, defensive, and you kind of lose your capacity for astonishment. And it’s a great loss because the world is a very astonishing place. So I think what I feel fortunate about is that I am still astonished that things still amaze me and I think that the great benefit of being in the arts where the possibility for learning never disappears us, where you basically have to admit you never learn it. “