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Context Matters

COVID-19 Shelter In Place Day Sixteen

Context is very important.

As a writer, I know this but as a human, I often forget.

I’ve been reminded of the importance of context every day in our family group texts.

I started the group as a way to send out important information about COVID-19.

It has taken on a life of its own.

It’s become a way for us to keep in touch and to have fun.

I have six siblings. All of them, except one of my brothers who refuses to get a smart phone, are in this group along with some of my nieces. With many of us working from home and all of us sheltering-in-place, texts have been going off like crazy.

Between my day job and my writing, I don’t have a lot of time to joke around through text messages. I’m glad they do and I wish I had more time, but I don’t.

Fortunately for me, I have no problem ignoring the pings.

Other people hear their phone beep and have to look. Not me.

I studied for my Microsoft certification while babysitting three young girls. I can tune out ANYTHING . (LOL).

The problem arises when I go back and skim through the messages.

This is where the issue of context rears its confusing little head.

These texts are flying back and forth. One statement could be answering a question from five texts ago. On top of that, as humans, we tend to use pronouns a lot and to assume that everyone knows what we’re thinking. It’s perfectly clear to us. It should be to them.

It’s not.

I’ve been guilty of this myself.

In college there were parking spaces around the dorms. Some were “timed” in that you could park your car there only for an hour or so while you loaded and unloaded your stuff. Others were permanent. You could leave your car there almost forever.

One Friday, I was lucky enough to find one of the parking spots where I could leave my car. Unfortunately, I was going home that weekend. I decided to let my friend know so she could grab the parking spot when I left. She wasn’t in her dorm room, so I wrote a message on the dry erase board on her door.

“I have a permanent spot. Let me know if you want it.”

She found me in the lunch room. “What the hell is a permanent spot and why would I want it?”

My note had made perfect sense to me.

It had not to her.

There had been no context in my message except what was in my head.

Had I taken two seconds to add a the word “parking”, it would’ve been clear or at least clear enough.

So, I know we’re all in a hurry – although we have nowhere to go – but take a moment, even when texting, and add a word or two. Change a pronoun to a noun. Be clear because no one can read the context in your head.

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