The importance of context

I had a bit of a challenging day yesterday. A total of 300 miles of driving through some of the remotest countryside I have ever been in. 

I drove to Kakadu National Park and back from Darwin to visit the aboriginal homelands, see the rock  art at Ubirr, and take a cruise down the East alligator River. Our aboriginal guides on the cruise were superb, sharing some amazing knowledge about the local plants, how to eat them or make weapons from them, how to find water when none appears to be available, and how to kill various animals for food.

I ended up leaving the area later than I intended and realised that this meant driving much of the 150 mile return journey in the dark. Several locals warned me of the dangers of driving at this time of day due to the abundance of significantly large wildlife that can leap out onto the road. I was also very aware of the fact that on the journey out I had only passed two filling stations and nothing else in between. Even other road traffic was scarce having only seen a maximum of 30 other vehicles (including the police car that did me for speeding) all day. The prospect of running out of fuel, hitting some bloody great animal, or even just getting a puncture, seemed very real and intimidating. It struck me that even with the car and my mobile phone (which had no signal most of the time) I could end up in real trouble.

To me this was an unfamiliar, bleak, and intimidating landscape. Yet to our aboriginal guides it is a land full of abundance. All of my accumulated knowledge, and the potential if my phone had a signal to access even more knowledge, meant little or nothing in the circumstances I found myself in. Don’t worry I am not going to turn into Ray Mears but it did make me think how useless I could be in the wrong context!

4 thoughts on “The importance of context

  1. Paula Thornton left a similar comment on a post of mine from way back, here’s a bit:"In one of my exercises I came up with a fabulous analogy. This was 1991. It was also the height of Richard Saul Wurman (his book Information Anxiety was required reading, but I’d already read it). Richard suggests that it isn’t information until it ‘informs’, which is why I began writing the word as INFORMation in my resume at that time. With that I wrote the following scenario: You’re in the middle of the Mojave desert. You come upon a gas station, but it’s abandoned. Lying on the counter is a map. Most would consider the map information: data in context. But there’s another criteria. It isn’t information until it’s in individually-relevant context (it has to be both important and understandable to me). In the middle of the desert, there is no context. The map is useless noise."


  2. The large majority of Australia’s land mass has this ability to highlight our physical vulnerability through its unfamiliarity (and, yes – an unnerving ability to reduce us to utter insignificance) … that’s one of the things that makes it impressive, and to some, attractive. If you like the “fish out of water” feeling, you were in the right place for it!


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