Google Has Replaced Context
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I ended up in a snarky exchange with a Facebook friend (someone I went to high school with but haven’t seen since). He posted "Earn this." #MemorialDay My response was flip (Does that mean I have to die in a war?) so I shouldn’t have been surprised that I irritated him. What surprised me was his insistence that I should have Googled the phrase before responding to his comment.
The line was from Saving Private Ryan where Tom Hanks tells Matt Damon to “Earn this” because people died in order to find and save him. Do something to live up to that sacrifice. Make a difference with what you do.
It’s a great Memorial Day sentiment, except I don’t remember that line at all. I took it in the context that things are only worth it if you fight for them, that wars make boys into men (the ones that survive, that is), and that there’s somehow something noble in fighting each other. A sentiment I don’t agree with at all.
Now, if he had added #SavingPrivateRyan to his one-liner, I would have been more likely to go and look it up before making a flip comment. But with the only context being #MemorialDay, I didn’t even have a clue that there was someplace that I should start looking. Instead of me seeing it as a noble sentiment from a powerful movie, the entire impact was lost on me and it just ended up being irritating for both of us.
The whole exchange made me think about the fact that we are so accustomed to having the entire pop-culture reference library at our fingertips that we no longer think of obscure references as obscure -- we just expect that if someone doesn’t quite understand the reference they’ll look it up.
We don’t need context anymore -- we can fit it together as we go. It’s ADHD on steroids. The Facebook news feed, or the Twitter stream, or even the random text messages that come to my phone in the middle of a meeting during the day… None of these come with context, and I somehow figure out what someone means when they drop a random line of text in front of me.
And the fact that I didn’t understand it this one time was so incredibly irritating just says it’s going to get worse. Face-to-face conversations will become less meaningful because we won’t be able to Google for context. Or maybe in the near future, with Siri-like voice recognition tools monitoring our conversations, we’ll have little audio feeds in our earbuds suggesting what the guy across the table is talking about.
Because it certainly isn’t up to the person doing the talking to frame the context for his audience anymore. They can just Google it.
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