Wherein I rant at medium length about functional literacy and language competency in knowledge work and information technology.

Look, I realize that we live in a TL;DR culture. I lived through 8 years of a non-reading president along with everyone else. I know that the brogrammers out there are constantly getting texts from their buddies to plan the weekend’s broactivities, trying to decide in whose mancave they’ll be setting up their lan party, and are thoroughly distracted in between futzing with their smart phones and writing a few lines of code per day by cutting and pasting it from stackoverflow. But it’s really not ok to act functionally illiterate when you’re not actually illiterate, when an advanced society that once put a man on the moon worked so hard to educate you.

Broken by Design: MongoDB Fault Tolerance by E. Gün Sirer

The rest of the blog post about failings in MongoDB is interesting. But, that particular paragraph caused me to start a slow clap all by myself, confusing the cats.

Well done, sir!

Well done, sir!

It voices an anxiety and an anger of mine about which I stay mostly quiet to everyone but my wife, who often humors rants on the subject and proffers rants of her own. It’s one of the many reasons I love her with all my heart.

Write like no one’s reading

This notion is partly why the tagline for this new blog of mine reads, “Write like no one’s reading.” It’s a corruption of the notion, dance like no one’s watching: It’s not so much that I’m anxious or shy about my writing – it’s that I’m quite cynical about amassing readers through writing long-form essays on a blog.

Still, I like writing at length, and this blog is for things too big for Facebook or Twitter. So, rather than keep it short, I’m going to write what someone like me would like to read. And, in fact, since I love the web and hypertext, you’ll find my posts will tend to be link-crazed and branch out into all kinds of external references.

Reading is Power

I do generate my share of quip-tweeting & link-blogging and aspire to write more and in greater depth. That said, I wholly agree with the author above: It’s not okay to be ineffectual with written communication – especially not if you are a professional in knowledge work and information technology.

Written communication is how we can work asynchronously – we don’t all need to be in the same place at the same time to accomplish great things. Documentation is, among other things, how you can augment your own feeble recollection – so that you can remember what the hell you were thinking, 6 months down the line. Text is susceptible to analysis and search by machines, which allows us to further augment our thinking and problem solving.

Language is the ultimate technology

In fact, I’ll go so far as to say: *It’s not okay to fail at written language as a modern, technologically-empowered human being. *Man on the moon, and all that.

Seriously, you don’t have to be a rocket surgeon, but you do have to read the whole damn article or email someone took the time to write, and you do have to make an effort at understanding fully what was written. And if you can’t write well enough to compose your thoughts in a considered & coherent form, get better.



Take the time, do your homework, exercise that prefrontal cortex.

If you’re college-educated, you had to do a lot of reading & writing for papers & essays. This might be stating the obvious, but the point of that exercise wasn’t to present an arbitrary gauntlet to pass and then never revisit. The point was that you should have developed skills of literacy useful throughout the rest of your life.

Meetings are the mind killer

Here’s an example beyond blog posts: I’ll admit that sometimes I bristle when someone suggests, “Let’s get {on a plane, in a room, in a video call} and hash this out.” The reason I bristle is because meetings can be called as a way to kick the can down the road. Rather than spend some time considering things up front, we’ll gather everyone up in time & space and start from a conceptual blank page.

I understand that real-time, high-bandwidth, person-to-person communication is often the key to getting everyone all on the same page. There are emotional cues, social niceties, negotiations and understandings to be had. And, I’ll admit that I’m an introvert and weak at dealing with social situations – this is a lifelong work-in-progress for me.

My "people skills" are "rusty"

My “people skills” are “rusty”

But, one of the first things I’ll wonder when a meeting convenes is: Who is taking notes & where can we find them? Ideally the answers are “all of us” and “at this {Etherpad, Google Docs} URL”.

I’ll also wonder: What is the agenda for this meeting? Ideally the answer is, “I already told you – at the {Etherpad, Google Docs} URL. Didn’t you read the meeting invite I sent out days ahead of time?”

When I don’t get good answers to the above, I think: *Wouldn’t it be nice if we’d spent some time writing things down – whether in docs or email or whatever – so we had something better to talk about? And then write all **that **down, too?

Wrapping up

I’m not writing this with any particular person or persons in mind – I’m sorry if anyone reading this feels personally addressed by way of passive-aggression. This is just a general issue with which I’ve dealt throughout my life & career.

This post also expresses standards to which I personally aspire, but I’ll be the first to admit I’m not perfect. I love writing, and I think I’m pretty good at it, but I will always have lots of room for improvement.

In the end, the notion I’m trying to convey can be summed up like so: Written language is essential to life as a modern day human being. Don’t expect others to pick up your slack in this area. Improve your reading, improve your writing, improve yourself.