Monday, 8 September 2014

Quote of the Week - Context and Sourcing

I try to source all the quotes I post, but even I was sucked into the Frieda Kahlo quote that was actually part of a Marti McConnell poem and you think I would know better.

Imagine how thrilled I was to find this amazing site - Quote Investigator!

Context is so important and we are losing it rapidly. The internet has become our archive for everything and that includes as much shaky truth as documented truth.

Maybe all this misquoting and misattribution is just telling us to stop trying to own thoughts and ideas. Yet, without proper attribution, what context is there?

This "Bukowski" quote has been everywhere: Find what you love and let it kill you.

It never felt like Bukowski to me. Also it has a funny spirit to it - especially for a man who spent a lot of time crawling into a bottle, up skirts and who pecked out his pecadillos on a typewriter.

Well, Quote Investigator says, it's not Bukowski at all - it's Kinky Friedman, or at least extrapolated from some statements by Kinky Friedman.

If you know anything about Kinky Friedman - well you might not know anything about Kinky Friedman - he's a consummate prankster. He's all persona and that persona was carefully designed as a post-hippie trickster Jewish cowboy who actually ran for Governor of Texas.

If you take Friedman out of context and call him Bukowski, well the words no longer mean what the words mean.

This is a little bit the problem with all these pithy quotes running around as twitter memes. Their lack of context allows them to mean themselves and their opposite. The more they circulate, the more power they lose. This is the opposite of remix culture - you are not adding power or doubling context - you are diluting and lessening. Maybe this is a place that language is going - beyond a kind of absolute meaning. Maybe we are moving in the direction of post-lingual. Maybe we should stop trying to hold onto context in the same way that perhaps we should stop trying to hold onto intellectual property.

I don't know.

We are evolving rapidly and in 100 years, when the Future Library is opened, I have no idea who we'll be.

But right now, those words mean something completely different to me if they've come from Bukowski than if they are coming from Friedman. One is said by a poet and novelist who took his work seriously and engaged sparingly in biting humor, and another from a humorist who loves provocation. The ability to re-contextualize and re-source is extremely powerful and we should use it. The danger is in losing context altogether, and disconnecting from source in a way that meaning is lost.

If the internet is to be our home, then I believe we must share context in order to communicate effectively. If we are aiming at making sense of life 140 characters at a time, we need to be precise. There is enough misunderstanding in the interfaces of humanity at the moment, some of it very violent. We are so often meeting in words now, and not in person or gesture, image or sound, we risk complete disconnection if we have no common ground for interpretation.

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