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Context is what context does. Or is it what you do?

Written on November 25th 2009. Last edited March 2010.

A few days ago Gabriela Sellart asked to save a comment I made on a Facebook thread somewhere visible. Gabriela was doubting whether to pull Twitter statuses into LinkedIn. I said I wouldn't.

Pablo raised issues of context and transparency. He said you are who you are regardless of context. I assume I have no permission to reproduce what Pablo -who is not my friend in Facebook- said in a semi-private medium, so I just quote my answer:

"My Twitter does not have a padlock. It's wide open. Anyone in the whole world can read it. I can put my Twitter address in LinkedIn as a website of mine. I would not let it replace the status bar in LinkedIn.

Whether you are who you are is not for me to say. Although I see a lot of people creating a persona in their blogs. Meeting them f2f changes things a lot.

I am a language teacher interested in communication online.
Two issues here:

1-Meaning is affected by context.
2-I wouldn't force the same info to different audiences. I like letting people choose."

I think choice matters. Who owns the choice? Those who are literate, which reminds me of a tweeted quote from a recent presentation by Michael Wesch:

Maybe a blog post is a better venue than Facebook to enlarge on the idea of transparency. I think Pablo and I are not using the same definition here. Transparency for me is not about showing it all. It's about showing everything that matters; that is, sharing the path for learning what you've learnt. How have you seized that learning you blog about? This is what gives a text online authority and validity in my opinion.

The idea of choice and context remained at the backstage of my mind until this morning. Terry Freedman published a post that set me commenting and wondering what is context when we are online.

So I dwell on those ideas...
The choice of context and how it affects the message. The power of context for creating meaning. To what extent does the medium make the message? This question seems to state a battle no one can win. We cannot fight RSS fragmenting all our conversations and distributing them everywhere. RSS per se is not against the law.

But reading in depth, what I sense Terry is worried about is a much more complex issue. That of how much will we let the machine do for us?

This is not a legal conversation topic, but an ethical one. A conversation worth having, by the way.

The interesting thing is that I wouldn't engage in this conversation, I wouldn't have gone for more depth into it if it had not been written by Terry, whom I follow and learn lots from. I am here writing because it is in the context of Terry's blog.

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After reading this, I just have to share a recent post that I wrote: http://pairadimes.davidtruss.com/google-buzz-and-george-costanza-worlds-collide/
...For instance, I tried linking Twitter to Facebook and all I did was infiltrate my non-twitter friends Facebook timelines with context-less tweets that really meant nothing to them… it lasted about 24 hours. Similarly, Buzz came out and I started chatting with a few people in it, then my daughter (a Gmail user who was quicker than I to figure out Buzz) said to me, “Dad you sure talk a lot about buzz with people.” And this got me thinking about how I’m normally very purposeful with my online identities. I think about where I say what, to whom and why… I contextualize my conversations to the tool.

It’s not that I’m hiding anything… My tweets are open to the public, so is my LinkedIn profile. Meanwhile, except for my recent updates to Facebook while on holiday, I keep that more candid, limiting my profile to students that I’m connected to, and being selective about what information I share in my profile. That said, there is nothing in my Facebook profile that I am ashamed of or that I wouldn’t want others to see, but I talk differently there to my family and friends than I do on other networks. I tend to share my blog everywhere and so that too has a different voice than with other tools in other contexts.

What we need to realize is that even with these choices about which context we are (either more or less) transparent in, we are still 'exposed'... you made a respectful decision here, "I assume I have no permission to reproduce what Pablo -who is not my friend in Facebook- said in a semi-private medium, so I just quote my answer", but many people are not as respectful and so we are only as private as our least scrupulous or digitally un-savvy 'friend'.

All that said, reading your tweets and your blog, I'm not sure meeting you f2f would change much more than finally 'seeing' a friend I've gotten to 'know' digitally for years now! Hopefully our geographical contexts will coincide some time in the future:-)

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