Knowledge Without Context

I’m a processor. I think through ideas deeply in order to see not only the potential, but also areas of improvement and how to apply them in reality. In short, I strive for context. But context in our day and age is difficult, especially when it is so easy to find out answers at the press of a button.

This morning while making pancakes, my grandmother asked me if you can freeze oleo. I honestly didn’t know, so I grabbed my iPhone and searched Google for the answer. In under a minute, I found out the answer. Yes, you can freeze oleo for up to three months, but it is susceptible to odor transfer.

Thanks to Google I was able to easily obtain knowledge, the answer to my question. But will I freeze oleo? No. Because the question for me is this: How much oleo have you boughten which warrants asking whether you can freeze it? Context is often found in asking a better or different question.

In my financial environments class, I was lost the first two weeks as I searched for context. How do balance sheets, income statements, and cash flow statements affect reality? What I was really searching for is the answer to a different question: How does strategy turn into quantitative measures? How can a trend of numbers be used to discover the qualitative meaning? What do these equations mean in reality? How do they apply to my experience as a business owner? I haven’t entirely found complete context, but I am bumbling along the path, leaving behind ignorance, heading for understanding.

One final thought about context is in relation to the KONY 2012 video which went viral over the last few days. Invisible Children is implementing a campaign to stop the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Africa (a very simplified summary of a incredibly complex issue). While I think the video is very well done and asks great questions, the response to the video, for and against, is really about the struggle with knowledge and context. What will you do with the knowledge about this issue? Will you ask questions? Will you accept the message from Invisible Children at face value? Will you look for ways to discredit the presenter of the message? Will you blindly look past the faults of the messenger?

There are answers to all of these questions, but the reality is that we have become comfortable with a merit badge approach to the attainment of knowledge. PHP, check. Video editing, check. HTML, check. Guitar, check. I have a lot of merit badges, but can I write a song? Can I direct a film? Can I design and develop a website or mobile app? These are questions which lead to the deeper analysis of myself: What will I do to impact society with the knowledge and abilities I possess? That is the ultimate context and one I am daily in pursuit of.