’ve heard Andrew Hinton give various talks on the problem of context, but he never fails to help me dive deeper into the problem. Simply put, digital spaces lack physical context, and frequently do a very bad job of substituting a digital context for the physical. This problem might seem a bit abstract, until we realize just how important context is to human cognition. Andrew has a number of great examples of this, but the one that resonates with me is role of context in social cognition. We have relationships with our families, our friends, our peers, our co-workers, and more, and we modulate both how we express our selves and how we process information based on which context we’re in. Digital social spaces tend to collapse these contexts, connecting us with all of our social circles through one channel, allowing us to express ourselves in one way. This gets worse as when we introduce aggregation into the picture, because we not only collapse social context but also “object” context. In some way, we can work around the problem of context by segregating our interactions across tools. Aggregators take away even that modicum of control.
Andrew asked us how we’re going to start to understand the ramifications of this shift in context, and to start thinking about how we’re going to understand the problem. Is this a fundamental behavioral shift? Is it a problem to be solved? Or is it an opportunity to create new kinds of contexts?