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Imagination Failure of the Moment

Failure of imagination is often indistinguishable from arrogance.

Here's how The Blue Technologies Group conceptualizes the ideal "writers" editing environment:

The concept of single documents in the classical sense is dismissed. Text elements take their part and are organised in a project, the container.
Every text element has two editing levels: the "standard" text and a "note pad".
The ability to format texts in an optical way (bold faced, italics, etc.) is omitted - you can divide paragraphs into levels and set markers instead.

It's passages like this that drive home to me how sorely and sadly in need most people are of a little applied personality theory. Because it's painfully clear to me just from the language that they use that their word processor, Ulysses, is going to be a painfully inappropriate tool for the vast majority of writers.

I know that because Ulysses has clearly been defined to suit the personality of a particular type of writer. The words and concepts its creators deploy tell me that. They talk about "projects", "markers", "levels" (of paragraphs?). These are organizational terms; they're conceptual terms. Using them to appeal to "writers" exposes the assumption that all writers think in similar ways. It implies that "writers" will want to restructure the way they think about producing texts such that they're vulnerable to being organized in "levels", and that they'll find it a benefit to replace italics and boldface with "markers".

My own experience working with writers who need to maintain HTML demonstrates to me abundantly that people aren't typically very interested in replacing italics with an "emphasis" tag. The idea that "italic" is visual and "emphasis" is conceptual (and hence, independent of presentation) is too abstract from the reality of writing, for them -- it's too high-concept; for them, the reality of writing is that emphasized passages are in italics, and strongly emphasized passages are in boldface.

And I also see that while they talk about elimiinating distractions, they produce an application with a cluttered and confusing user interface that looks to me like nothing so much as the UI of an Integrated Development Environment (IDE). While I've grown accustomed to the metaphor, I can remember when I found it cluttered and confusing, and I know from long experience that most people find those UIs as confusing as hell.

Now, this may be a great environment for some creative people. But based on what I know about personality theory, that subset of people is going to be very small -- something less than 7% of the population, most likely, and then reduce that to the much smaller subset that are writers who work on substantial projects.

I might even try Ulysses myself, for whatever that's worth; but if it looks to me like it would be the slightest nuisance to produce reviewable copy (for example, if I have to spend ANY TIME AT ALL formatting for print when I send it to friends and colleagues for review) then it's more or less worse than useless to me: Any time I save by having my "projects" arranged together (and how many writers do I know who organize things into discreet projects like that?), would be wiped out and then some by time wasted formatting the document for peer-reviewers. And I haven't even started to talk about trying to work cooperatively with other people....

The (partly valid) response might be that if writers would only learn to use it correctly, and adopt it widely enough that you wouldn't need special formatting to send a manuscript out for review, then Ulysses would be a fine tool. Of course, that's the same kind of thing that Dean Kamen and his true believer followers said about the Segway: If we'd all just rearrange our cities to suit it, the Segway would be an ideal mode of transport....

It's not the marketing I object to -- that will either work or it won't -- it's the arrogance of presuming that they've found the True Way. Because the implicit lack of interoperability that goes along with defining a new file storage protocol (and I don't care how you dress them up, they're still files) basically inhibits Ulysses users from working with other writers, and therefore implies that it's a truly separate way, if not a purely better way. Ulysses looks to me like a tool that fosters separateness, not cooperation -- isolation, not interaction. It's farther than ever from the hypertext ideal.

But then, I suppose my irritation is indicative of my own personality type.

Comments

From the Ulysses website:

One of the biggest deficiencies of currently available systems is the total ignorance of the process of creative writing. No extensive text is written at once, in a single document. A story consisting of 200 pages results from fractions, starting points, discarded ideas and many more â?? all neatly distributed along a total of 800 pages, most likely with over 100 different documents, combined with notes, Post-Its, scribblings on the margins of numerous daily papers, beer covers, napkins and the back sides of photos.

Uhm... so 60s!
Transferred to digital standards this means in the worst case several hundred documents from a bunch of different applications that were put into different folders on the hard disk. The organisation of these pieces requires the writer to be extremely disciplined â?? a mind job that could have better been spent on writing itself.

So 60s? Now see, thatâ??s bound to turn off baby boomers right there! And writers shouldnâ??t have to be organized, but they need to spend more time formatting the document for peer-reviewers?

Like, what if someone on vacation is taking a dip in a hotel pool and experiences a glorious, creative moment, channeling the muses:

â??Ah, cripes, I forgot to hook my foolproof, waterproof word processor-mini on my mini-bikini! Oh, man. Whereâ??s my beer? Say, you! Yes, you there with the awesome abs. Would you mind grabbing that napkin youâ??re not using,... oh, and do you have a pen? Thank you!! Donâ??t want to lose the flow...â?

... and then she runs back to her room, revises her manuscript and canâ??t wait to send her colleague the latest draft of what is bound to be a bestseller?

â??Bubba, youâ??re gonna have to wait to review my latest... Sorry, but I just donâ??t get this confusing UI.... Might be faster to find an old Selectric and snail-mail it to you.â?

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