Here’s a description of context collapse:
Before social media, you spoke to different “audiences” — family members, friends, colleagues, and so forth — in different ways. You modulated your tone of voice, your words, your behavior, and even your appearance to suit whatever social “context” you were in (workplace, home, school, nightclub, etc.) and then readjusted the presentation of yourself when you moved into another context.
On a social network, the theory went, all those different contexts collapsed into a single context. Whenever you posted a message or a photograph or a video, it could be seen by your friends, your parents, your coworkers, your bosses, and your teachers, not to mention the amorphous mass known as the general public. And, because the post was recorded, it could be seen by future audiences as well as the immediate one.
But then, the article goes on to claim (I believe rightly—for example, look at this very site), that context has been restored:
The recent history of social media isn’t a story of context collapse. It’s a story of its opposite: context restoration. Young people led the way, moving much of their online conversation from the public platform of Facebook, where parents and teachers lurked, to the more intimate platform of Snapchat
And that content collapse is a bigger deal:
content collapse will be the more consequential legacy of social media. Content collapse, as I define it, is the tendency of social media to blur traditional distinctions among once distinct types of information — distinctions of form, register, sense, and importance. As social media becomes the main conduit for information of all sorts — personal correspondence, news and opinion, entertainment, art, instruction, and on and on — it homogenizes that information as well as our responses to it.
Here is the short version of content collapse as described in the article
First, by leveling everything, social media also trivializes everything… Second, as all information consolidates on social media, we respond to it using the same small set of tools the platforms provide for us… Third, content collapse puts all types of information into direct competition… Finally, content collapse consolidates power over information, and conversation, into the hands of the small number of companies that own the platforms and write the algorithms.
I found the article helpful, as I’ve been thinking more and more that the context collapse I’ve read about seemed to be real but also seems to be disappearing. It also pushes me back to the thought that the “medium is the message.” It seems to me that much of what is referred to as content collapse is described by McLuhan and Postman.
It makes me wonder whether content collapse can actually be overcome in some manner as well.