You wouldn’t normally mention an 11th century ruler of England in the same sentence as a 20th century quantum physicist. But Canute and Erwin Schroedinger together illustrate one of main challenges facing content today.
Stick with me on this one.
Let’s start with Canute. Most of us know the story and how the King took his throne to a beach and commanded the advancing tide to recede. Then there’s Schroedinger, famous for illustrating quantam theory with a tale about a cat shut in a box containing a toxic isotope. According to the fable the cat exists simultaneously alive and dead until you open the box and one version of reality reveals itself.
What links both these stories is the importance of context. Canute didn’t really believe he could reverse the laws of nature, but he wanted to prove to his subjects the challenges and limits of regal authority. He was commentating on the nature of kingship, not acting it out. Similarly with Schroedinger and his cat. His fable is less a description of quantum science and more an attempt to articulate the shock of a theory that contradicted every genius from Newton to Einstein.
And that’s why context matters. Without this information both our protagonists come off badly: Canute is an arrogant buffoon; Schroedinger a deranged scientist with feline cruelty issues. Hardly fair, but sadly inevitable given our propensity to gossip and share.
Of course this dilemma has been around for years but in the age of retweets, like buttons and do it yourself rent-a-rage community pages, it’s increasingly poignant. Keeping control over context is getting harder and harder, but in the next blog I’ll be looking at some of the latest publishing tools that can help.