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Subject:Re: RE. Text is bad? From:Chris Kowalchuk <chris -at- bdk -dot- net> To:TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com> Date:Fri, 17 Mar 2000 15:49:09 -0500
> Because spoken languages are essential
> for human interaction, we can surely infer that spoken languages existed for
> at least hundreds of thousands of years, while our archaeological records
> for written ones go back only a few thousand. Further, primitive tribes
> always have a spoken language, but few ever bother with a written one. We
> are aural and visual, not textual by nature
Oh dear oh dear oh dear...
We are getting into highly philosophical and problematic ground here.
The distinction between speach and text is not all that great (no matter
what Plato says--and I don't mean Andrew). Phonetic alphabets or
pictographic symbols, whether speaking or writing, we are still engaging
in a process of symbology and interpretation, fortunately something our
human brains are rather good at, whether oral or visual. Writing removes
it a step (maybe, and very sound arguments have been made that it does
not--cf Jacques Derrida), but it is efficient. Those who lack writing
lack a very important tool for the storage, conveyance, and manipulation
of information, and ultimately for the understanding of information.
Yes, the instructional video most probably would show us how to perform
a specific task in a specific way, depending on what the documentarist
decided to show us, better than a written description of the same
process, but where is the index and the reference section? Can I look
something up on a video? Also, what of the extraneous information it
must necessarily present that may confuse the viewer. Was it necessary
for the operator to be wearing a purple shirt? When the operator entered
the room, I noticed that he stumbled a little bit. Is that also part of
My point is that in any conveyance of information, by whatever means,
there will be intention and interpretation, and potential for
That is why I cannot agree with the "the kids don't like to read so
let's give them the information in a different way" argument. Reading is
a process of active interpretation wherein the audience is (usually)
aware that it is interpreting. Good excercise. Watching a video is also
an act of interpretation (and could also in that sense be thought of as
a type of reading), but most of our audiences are not as aware of what
they are doing when it comes to watching a video (too bad). I believe
that there is more potential for getting a higher quality of information
out of a written document. Videos, because of the time it takes to watch
them, must necessarily restrict themselves to very narrow and specific
topics. To suggest that short attention spans and decreasing literacy
are market trends we must adjust for is just not a go for me. Adjustment
is tantamount to cause, and I believe that our society can only suffer
as literacy decreases. I refuse to participate in the "dumbing down"
process. Where pictures, symbols etc. can be used to good effect, of
course we should use them, but how could you draw a picture of what I
just wrote? Where does a picture explain why you should do something, or
suggest alternatives? In the narrow field of writing instructions that
are not to be subject to questioning (a fair bit of tech writing, I
admit), your pictures and symbols might often be advantageous. Similarly
the instructional video has a role to play, but I honestly doubt whether
it can play a role much bigger than it does already to any great effect.
One final thought--there is much emphasis these days on stating what
must be done as clearly, simply, and unquestionably as possible (such
that if a picture or movie will do it, that is preferable). But do you
not find that people are for more apt to interpret your instruction
correctly and more willingly execute it when they also understand WHY it
must be done? How do you draw a picture of that?