Chapter 21. Narratives and Situations

The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.


People Make Sense Through Stories

BEFORE COMPOSING SOMETHING new WE SHOULD UNDERSTAND WHAT IS ALREADY THERE. But we’ve already established that there is no stable, persistent “context” to begin with—that it emerges through action. So, how do we understand the current state if it won’t sit still? The key is in studying the experience from the points of view of the agents involved and how they think and behave. Those points of view provide the dynamic landscape—and the principles we derive from it—that puts everything else into perspective. These agents can be individual users, groups of them, organizations, and even digital actors. Let’s begin with how humans work—and how they understand their experience as narrative. Recall our working definition: context is an agent’s understanding of the relationships between the elements of the agent’s environment.

The environment exerts more control over that understanding and action than we often realize, but that influence over the experience has its limits. Ultimately, the final interpretation and recollection of any experience is up to the individual who has it.

As we learned earlier, a stone lying along a path can be clutter, a tool, or a piece of a wall—it all depends on the context the agent brings to the perception of the stone. People find meaning in the environment even when there is no semantic information there ...

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