Introduction to Rational Media: Content vs. Container

Over the years, I have written quite a bit about online media — and most of it seems to be quite controversial. Perhaps one of the most controversial stories I have written has been the story about what I refer to as “outdated media” technology (which I wrote on what is essentially my own “personal” blog). The definition of this more-or-less controversial term has held up quite well, and now I would like to begin delving into the other side of the coin.

I am immediately motivated by the encouragement of an aspiring educator who said she looks forward to “reading more of your thoughts related to this topic” (meaning the topic of “building connections“). Language builds connections — insofar as it is meaningful. Following Ludwig Wittgenstein’s observations, we can say that the meanings we create by using language are mostly circumscribed by those contexts in which we use particular linguistic expressions (versus other contexts, and / or other expressions, respectively): we do not say “cat” when talking about a dog; we do not say “dog” when talking about a cat.

Meaningful expressions exist at various levels. We navigate these contexts without even needing to think about it. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is Herbert Paul Grice’s seminal work on pragmatism (“Logic and conversation”, 1975) — in which he analyzed the meanings of expressions that seem to violate standard (“grammatical”) interpretations. Yet much research in linguistics oddly aims to be “context-free”, which seems to fly in the face of how humans seem to naturally think. To ignore context makes about as much sense as trying to breathe in a vacuum.

My particular focus is primarily written language, another favorite point of ignorance among many more conventional linguists. One particularly interesting aspect of most writing systems is that the technology has evolved to support very explicit contextual information. In school, we learned to write “about” stuff by putting a title above what we wrote. If the title was something like “The difference between cats and dogs” (well, that sounds quite definitive, doesn’t it? maybe it would show more humility to use a title like “Some of the differences between cats and dogs which I think are important right now”, but I expect many might instead coach students to be more straightforward, to forthrightly simply declare something like “Cats & Dogs”) … with such titles a reader reasonably expects to find some particular kinds of information — and by reasonable you might even think “rational”. Rational media, therefore, is about something meaningful… and the thing it’s about is clearly labeled in the title.

Online, these titles are the names of sites — not “page titles”. A page title is merely a piece of metadata about an HTML page. A site is the container for content — in other words: its context.

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