Too big to know (Prologue, Chapter 1)
In his book “Too big to know” David Weinberger ponders the nature and value of knowledge:
“How much of what we know depends on what we would like to believe?” (vii).
Here author seems to suggest that knowledge is inherently inaccurate and, at least partially, based on our beliefs rather that facts. In other words, knowledge is often what we believe to be true, rather than what we know to be true.
Yet, as subjective as knowledge may seem “knowledge is treasure, knowing is the distinctively human activity, and our system of knowledge is the basis for the hope that we might all one day come to agreement and leave in peace” (ix).
The author regards knowledge as “treasure”, something that sets us apart from the animals. He assumes that animals are inferior as they are said to have no knowledge – the idea I find somewhat questionable. The animals may have no means of preserving or expressing their knowledge, yet it is false to assume they have no knowledge at all. Like humans they gather and process data from their environment, analyze it and learn from it. Knowledge is not a property of humans, it is universal. The author also assumes that knowledge is peace, whereas many will argue that ignorance is peace while knowledge leads to destruction.
Comparing printed and digital information the author remarks:
“…and every reader who uses a word processor – or, as most of us say these days, who writes – contrasts the solid traces we used to leave behind with the digital dust we currently leave in our wake: more of it for sure, but also more likely to be blown away by a hard-drive failure or a change from floppies to CDs to DVDs to Blu-Rays to whatever comes next and next after that” (x).
The quote assumes the longevity of paper compared to “digital dust” of today’s world. It fails to notice, however, that digital information is versatile, easily replicated and thus have a better chance of surviving. Plastics, in fact, will easily outlast all kinds of paper. The author also makes paper-based sources of information sound more noble. “The solid traces” certainly sound more trustworthy compared to “digital dust.” Every “weird cookbook”, however, fundamentally leaves the same “solid trace” as a copy of “War and Peace” and may one day well be the one our civilization will be judged by. It has to be noted, of course, that there are certainly more copies of “War and Peace” floating around. But just as only the proven classics of literature have stood the test of time, meaningless digital information will eventually be lost while useful works persist.
Technical writing 101 – So what’s a technical writer?
According to the author, being a technical writer takes seemingly contradictory qualities.
“…you should be comfortable with and have some basic knowledge about the technology you’ll be documenting” (8).
“Initial ignorance—or, even better, the ability to pretend ignorance—can be a valuable asset when you’re writing content. (10)
On one hand, a technical writer should be knowledgeable about the subject of his writing in order to identify its crucial parts and produce a comprehensive manual, on the other, however, should be able to approach the subject from a novice’s viewpoint.
Also competent technical writers (as, in fact, any writer) need to be versatile in their language.
“An important component of clear, easy-to-understand writing is using correct grammar and spelling. As a technical writer, you must be able to produce content that’s grammatically correct and doesn’t have any spelling errors” (10).
“However, following the standard rules of language comes with a significant caveat. In some cases, adhering to the most formal rules of writing is not the best method for communicating with readers” (11).
On one hand writing should be professional and grammatically correct, on the other be accessible to the intended reader. Some minor grammar and stylistic issues might need to be omitted for clarity.