July 18, 2006

my sudden school day

In reading Stowe today on the Sudden School of Zen and business blogging, I thought about my own discoveries of how technology works, and all of the "getting it" that is a part of the process of understanding online communication.

I think the same thunderstrike of insight can happen — in a much more modest way — when someone “gets” what blogs are, and sees what they can do for a solo practitioner or small business. I don’t mean to suggest that in a single moment all of the labor and love involved in blogging gets compressed to zero, but that it is possible to grasp the dynamics of social media and its benefits in just one exposure to the right description.

That is how it has been for me, in mini-lessons and discoveries along the way, each one seeming to be an ah-ha moment of astronomical importance, a quantum leap breaking through thought-as-usual.

In technology, it happened for me in 1993 when I first understood the concept of the "hyperlink" and what it was or. For all of you who came into your technical prime at a time when the net and hyperlinks were a given, trust me on this: Letting go to linear thought and understanding the relationships among subjects and thoughts outside of left-to-right Was A Big Deal.

My ah-ha moment came when I was working on online training documentation for Kodak's security management product that ran under OS2 (ah, that Windows will never catch on anyway). We developed our online help and training documents using BookMaster tags, and it was in that context that I learned how to write what was not linear.

I struggled--I mean for real. Imagine trying to figure out how to construct an entire manual which would never exist on paper when your entire world had been paper. I made books. That's what I did. The hyperlink seemed sacrilegious.

Imagine me with my pencil and printer paper, building a full-scale floor map of how these online pages would link up, would connect, with arrows going from one page to the next, and then to relative pages where hyperlinks were needed. Imagine me taping all of those pages together in order to visualize communication that was designed specifically NEVER to live on paper.

I wish I still had my first online help map. Talk about the wayback machine.  You would see the arrows from one page to the next and back again labeled with the words that I wanted to tag as the link. You would see crossouts and re-labeling. You would see a Really Big Deal being made of something that is automated today.

You might even think I was dense. Okay, maybe. But I did get it. Finally.

My ah-ha moment came in a dream. Since my entire brain was taxed with this project, it haunted me in my sleep, like my K-Mart cashier checkout dreams when I was 17.

As I slept, I saw my co-workers coming out of doors, one after the other after the other, as if they were being clicked on, each causing the next person to pop out of the next door. For the longest time, the dream went on, as friends and family popped out of doors, each connected to the other's popping, at least in my dreamscape.

And I got it.

I really got it.

And my world did change. My understanding of communication changed. My default on how to tell another person something changed. I could write as the crow flew, not take detours to tell something that might or might not be useful, make things optional, engage the person I was talking TO by giving them the choice to explore further, or a map to the shortest route to understanding.

And to this day I think that dream was magnificent.

And I think that's what Stowe is talking about.

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