Context is the environment or situation in which something exists
or occurs. The human mind uses context to manage a massive amount
of information from a myriad of different situations, such as work,
family, friends, and community. Using context, people quickly decipher
what information is relevant in a given situation. As people, we
can recognize the contexts we are in, know what information is applicable
to each context, and derive information from each context.
For example, when a computer store clerk asks, "Can I help
you?" and you answer, "burner" the clerk will immediately
take you to the CD and DVD recorder section. On the surface this
exchange may appear elementary, but the simplicity belies just how
complex and advanced human communications really are. Both you and
the clerk used context to enrich the word "burner". From
the clerk's perspective, she used the computer store's context in
conjunction with the word "burner" to decipher your meaning.
Stove burners, Bunsen burners, and wood burners were all out of
the question. Besides, because your interaction was in the context
of a store, the clerk knew that you would be limited to examining
and perhaps buying the merchandise. From your perspective, you knew
that in a computer store, the word "burner", without further
information, would result in exactly the information you sought.
Using context you and the clerk were able to transform ambiguity
into exactly the right information.
Context processing is essential to the human mind. In fact, context
processing is so important that researchers have found its loss
or impairment has been linked to the cognitive problems of aging
and schizophrenia. While context is critical to human mental function,
it is absent from the modern information technology infrastructure.