Side note – WordPress is acting all funky today, so spacing is strange and it looks like I forgot how to make paragraphs. Whatever.
I am all about context. If my husband tells me a story, then I want details. I need to know the who, where, what everyone was wearing, and the facial expressions of those involved. Without that info, I don’t have the whole picture. Context is also my worst enemy in writing. I always, always give too much back story. I think that, like me, everyone needs to know the gory details. As a result, I end up shoving context down your throat.
So, this morning I read with great interest an article in Science Daily about recent research on where scene context occurs in the human brain. It’s an evolutionary trait that developed over hundreds of thousands of years. In our earliest days, it aided us in survival and helped identify danger. Now this ability helps us with daily tasks like driving, and thank your lucky stars it does, because most people don’t pay much attention to the road. This skill is what keeps us from crashing in to one another while barreling down the highway.
Machines, advanced as they are, still have no context. The example given in the article was that, if a human were told to look at a cluttered desk and asked to identify a computer mouse, they would instinctively look next to the keyboard. A machine would not automatically associate a mouse with a computer. Though it might be able to find the mouse, it could also identify something of similar shape and size, and classify it as a mouse incorrectly.
I’m sure teams of researchers all over the world are trying to teach context to machines at this very moment, and once they have, we can say hello to the Robot Revolution and goodbye to life as we know it.
I’ve written previously about how, sometimes, I completely misunderstand things. It’s usually something written, like this email, or maybe something I heard. So, after reading the article, I thought, Well there you have it. I mess things up when I don’t have visual cues.
Who am I kidding? That’s not the only time I misinterpret situations. Even with the visual cues, I get things wrong. I can only assume the portion of my brain that identifies environmental and social context cues has devolved.
Once, I walked out of my office at work, and down the hall the director of HR and head of IT were having a conversation. Both looked up at the same time, and the IT director put his hand under his chin, palm down, and wiggled his fingers at me.
Blood rushed to my face – I’m certain I turned the color of a tomato, and I gasped. Both hands flew to the top of my shirt, and I looked down, expecting to find my top had come unbuttoned. When I looked back up, both men had puzzled expressions.
“What are you doing?” asked the HR director.
“I thought he was telling me my shirt was unbuttoned.” I answered. The head of HR, who was also my boss, looked horrified. But the IT guy just laughed and said, “Haven’t you ever seen Little Rascals?”
Um, no. Obviously.
I couldn’t tell you why I thought that gesture was his way of telling me my top was undone. All I know is, for the next several weeks I was greeted with the hand wiggle by pretty much everyone, and I never wore that blouse again.