This weekend just past, I was lucky enough to take my daughter back to her University. Now this obviously wasn't to study, or to take up residence. No, it was for something else.
She lives on-campus, in a swish new building. You know, the kind that has delightful architectural detailing paired with rigorous practicality. This one also has electronic key entry, into not only the building but also the corridor of her flat, and then into the flat itself. Very well thought out.
In stark contrast, my university days, which were multiple 'odd' privately rented houses, with 'odd' housemates or 'odd-er' working folk.
Back at her University, the thing is, you need to change flats each year even if you remain on campus. Which I find a little odd, but then again, you are talking about education establishments, and they are very often 'other-worldly'.
With the current restrictions, you needed to book a slot to extract all of your gear out. Impressively, she had managed to get a slot to do the extraction, paired with a slot to deliver (to the new flat), next to each other. Luckily for us, the new place was only 100 yards away, in the even newer building.
So, with masks in play, we all drove up & put the plan into place. The timings were tight, there was a certain amount of "you should clean more often", which was offset by some wonderful laughter. It went well & according to plan.
This is article is not about that.
You know when you have an argument with someone? I'm not talking about the milk-before-tea kind (which for the record is completely wrong, it is always tea then milk!). No, I'm talking about those arguments that start about something trivial, and escalate so quickly that it will often take the two parties by surprise. Yep, those.
At some point, usually when all the standard argument weapons and angles have been deployed, someone will unleash the context weapon of mass destruction.
Used by either the losing side to trip the other party up in a final effort to get themselves back into the game, or it can be used to crush the looser.
It is a one-two attack. You start, as the deployer of the weapon, by taking a phrase or segment from a previous argument. The further back into the mists of time, the better. You take that phrase and knowingly twist it into a different meaning. The key to step one is knowing that they were actually saying, "X", and deliberately twisting it to saying "Y". This is step one. Now, you know the other party aren't idiots, and can see that you are deliberately twisting something that was said. Even if they can't remember it exactly, they will often pick up on the "that doesn't sound like something I would say". They will counter with "that's not true, you are taking that entirely out of context!". Convinced they have blocked that line of attack. Then comes step two. As they are leaning forward, overly pleased that they have not only spotted but also blocked the attack, you hit them with it. Selecting something super recent with option expletives, "but it's not out of context, when you said you'd never put milk in first!". Boom.
The weapon of context.
Context can change something, it can be used as a weapon, or as a different viewpoint. It has the power to take something, and somehow change it into something else.
At the University, there was something rather odd about it. It didn't feel like we were moving house. It didn't feel like we were moving flats. It didn't feel like we were moving hotel rooms. It was something else. Nothing bad, just something else.
It wasn't until I shared some photos that I had taken that I realised what was going on. The photo in question was a close-up of an architectural feature that was framed in such a way to look like something else.
It was the students. The students were missing. In the setting of something that was fundamentally designed to work with lots and lots of students and people, they were entirely absent. Not just less of them, I mean none of them. Not a single one.
In removing the fundamental thing that gave the location its reason for existing, it had become something else.
The change in Context had provoked a change in Identity.
There is a phrase that is banded about at the moment, "the new normal". It expresses the desire, and perhaps hope, that things will be back to normal but with a couple of manageable changes.
The trouble is, the whole context of how we interact with each other has changed. It is not a different type of 'normal', it will surely be something with an entirely different identity.
I'm a carbon-unit who writes; a Carbon Writer. Life & culture are my default topics, mixed with a little English wit & sarcasm. Full of mostly true stories, I occasionally remember to write them down. Found in a crowd, or contemplating in a corner. Habit of talking to anyone. Author.
- Nigel Derbyshire