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The Madera Tribune

The importance of context

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webmaster | 04/25/12

One of the things I have noticed for a long time is that when I see people out of their contexts, I sometimes don’t recognize them right away. Does this happen to you?

A few days ago, I was in the drug store, and I saw a woman who looked vaguely familiar, but I wasn’t sure I knew who she was. I looked at her briefly, but nothing about her made me remember her name. I didn’t want to stare at her because if she had caught me doing it, it might have seemed rude.

So, I passed her by, saying nothing. Then, she said, “Hi!” And I knew right then who she was — a woman who attended the same church I attend. But this was the first time I had seen her outside of church. We chatted for a moment or two, as some of us are wont to do in a drugstore (unless we happen to be holding something we would just as soon somebody didn’t know we were buying). Then we bade each other farewell.

That encounter made me think about the importance of context in our daily lives. If you frequent the same restaurant a lot, you get to know the other people in the restaurant who are regulars — patrons and employees — quite well. But if you see them outside the restaurant, you may not recognize them right away, if at all.

Familiarity is fleeting. You may recognize someone you have recently seen on television, but if time passes, recognition of that person may fade. Newscasters find this to be true a lot. I knew a newscaster many years ago who was one of the best-recognized TV personalities in the market, but after he left the station and took up another occupation, people didn’t recognize him so much any more.

I think that’s why people find the more they advertise, the more people think of them. (That’s not meant as a plug for newspaper advertising, but it might as well be. Those who advertise are the ones you recognize.)


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