Shunning the Nonstandard

I interviewed for a job many years ago. A job I really wanted. These folks were working on what I, at the time, considered the most interesting problem on the perimeter of personal computing. How to empower users to author, not just use, software. The problem of how to drag programming out of the ivory tower and into the hands of the unwashed masses.

I knew withing 30 seconds of the first interview that I wasn’t going to be taking the job. The first question, the first interviewer asked: “You know .. You didn’t fold your letter correctly?”

As a dyslexic I knew that was that was the end of that that. I’d played that role way too many times. Folks in that role get shot in the first act to demonstrate for the audience the seriousness of the situation.

I have friends who find a story like that incomprehensible. They are outraged, bewildered – this is very nice.

But, in point of fact, it’s entirely straight forward what’s going on there. I can even be sympathetic, to a degree. The
dude, having recieved your resume, email, essay, article, solicitation, whatever in the mail, has zero information with which to judge it. So before giving it any expesive close analysis he takes short cuts. He makes a quick breadth first sweep to collect what little data he can. He takes note of the paper, the typeface, the layout, etc. For most people spelling and grammar are included in that sweep.

For most people the skill of picking out errors of grammar and spelling is as costly as noticing a lump of coal on a bed sheet.

The goal of this quick pass is to save time, to decide if further deeper consideration is worth the bother. This low information decision making about
when to further connect is – i think it is now clear – what creates the perferencial binding that gives rise to power-law distributions. It is the micro-payment of predjudice.

So consider this fragment off somebody else’s blog.

“Secondly, spelling. I cannot stress enough how important this is. Mr Fred Grott is a good example of that schizoid dyslexic child your mother should have warned you about but likely didn’t. He not so much types out comments as spasms uncontrollably in the vicinity of a keyboard and hopes for the best. This my friend will not impress any girls, I assure you. Strangely enough, Mr Grott somehow manages to produce a vaguely coherent blog, suggesting a fairly severe case of Jekyll and Hyde. It’s fine if you misspell the odd word or two; everyone does it. However, to go out of your way to consistently spell badly, sometimes as much as 50% of your words, is just bad manners. Mr Grott, I hereby crown you village idiot, and you get to wear the hat for the rest of the week. Don’t worry though, once I start mauling JBoss I expect some of their apologists will soon claim your crown.”

I have spent a lot of my life learning to smile and move on in the face of such rants. My blindness to the lumps of coal on a bed sheet leads other people to label me an idiot. Presumably their generosity is intended to inspire me to better myself. The goodnews is technology is devaluing this skill. From both ends. The skill is, it turns out, reasonably easy to mimic with computers. The skill is becoming far less valued as the foundations of the ivory tower of hyper-editted copy are undercut in the flood of fresh content.

0 thoughts on “Shunning the Nonstandard

  1. Lance

    While I agree with your sentiment, Fred’s affliction is painful because a tool is available to him but apparently ignored: Roller (the server behind includes a spell-checker. Fred has some good ideas and commentary (and some that are only rant-worthy), but it exceptionally difficult to parse his grammer for the meaning. This interferes with getting his point across.

    I liked reading what Fred wrote, until I had too much other stuff to spend the time necessary to “interpret” his writing. Perhaps I’ll add a spell-checker to Roller’s comments as well, so Fred can ignore it there too.

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