12 Oct 2004
froofy dream-big stuff/writing
26 Aug 2004
In such a file as I am going to describe, there is joined personal experience and professional activities, studies under way and studies planned. In this file, you, as an intellectual craftsman, will try to get together what you are doing intellectually and what you are experiencing as a person. Here you will not be afraid to use your experience and relate it directly to various work in progress. By serving as a check on repetitious work, your file also enables you to conserve your energy. It also encourages you to capture ‘fringe-thoughts’: various ideas which may be by-products of everyday life, snatches of conversation overheard on the street, or, for that matter, dreams. Once noted, these may lead to more systematic thinking, as well as lend intellectual relevance to more directed experience.
— C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination
There's more of this quotation, uncannily in context for blogging, in Alex's post.
4 Mar 2004
16 Jan 2004
I'll admit it: I am afraid of abstractions. Afraid because while abstractions can capture important pieces of understanding and help people communicate, they can also be both unnecessarily divisive and excessively vague.
By abstractions I mean words that have highly non-literal meanings; concepts like love, good, happiness, and sometimes death and failure that express meaning in broad brush strokes. To contrast abstract and less abstract phrasings, consider a possible line from a poem that reads as such:
His love for her brought him happiness.
And contrast it to the much more literal:
The sight of her cast his weary lips into an asymmetrical smile, revealing his right front tooth.
As you can tell, I'm not trying to win any awards here. Consider the first statement. There are zillions of possible interpretations, and it's quite conceivable that a line this vague would inspire all sorts of unexpected interpretations. Some might immediately cast it as a thoughtless aphorism supporting the oppressive heterosexual status quo. Some might think of a particular love in their own life. The second is, well, not something I'd want to see in a poetry workshop either, but the range of possible interpretations is at least a *little* more under control.
That is the problem with abstractions. They are out of control. You are arguing with somebody about something, you can't really tell what you're all talking about, but you know he said something that sounded totally absurd. Well, it probably sounds that absurd because he, or you, or both of you, were taking an abstract word to mean something more or less than the other. Now you've gone and had a whole long argument— philosophical at best, enfuriating at worst— because neither of you could express your understanding clearly enough to learn from one another.
Now you see why I can't tolerate slashdot.
That's why I try to avoid abstractions. I don't care about being right-in-some-abstract-sense. I like to build things that work, I like to understand how things work, deeply, so I can take them apart and teach someone else how to put them back together. I don't like arguing over how to call something when I could be learning from someone else's unique perspective. That's why I like to listen, I like to hear specifics, and I like to ask pointed questions. And why when someone tells me I'm wrong, I ask for an explanation of what that means.