This Written Tradition

The written word has been a pretty standard method of communication for a long time. It’s safe to say that this technology has had a huge impact on our civilization.

Most importantly, writing provides a way to store knowledge outside of the human brain. This enabled the transfer of ideas and instructions to spread across geographic expanses, generations, and civilizations. Before this, we relied on oral tradition, which is just a game of telephone on a generational scale; parts get changed or forgotten and the original message is lost forever.

Writing isn’t just a way to communicate what we’re thinking, the process of writing is an aid to the thought process itself. It is more intentional than stream of consciousness thought and affords a unique perspective. We are visual animals and when we force ourselves to visualize our thought process as sentences on a page or a screen, we are able to free ourselves from our monkey-at-the-typewriter inner dialogs. This provides important opportunities like the ability to critique our assumptions, decisions and logic, keep our thoughts organized and refactor them visually, and ensure important ideas persist in spite of an imperfect memory.

I’ve written quite a lot over the past couple years. I’ve tried to maintain a journal to reflect on my experiences, kept project logs to track progress and tasks, created product documentation used internally by myself and coworkers and written copy for websites and apps that I’ve designed. Most of this, however, I never really classified as “writing”. Because I wasn’t writing fiction or an article for a blog, I dismissed it as something else, which was wrong. This practice has honed my ability to translate messy, nebulous thoughts into slightly clearer and hopefully more precise words.

In the past, I’ve enjoyed writing the most when it is intended for no one other than myself. When I am writing for myself, I feel endued with an otherly perspective; I am able to step out from behind my own eyes and walk around the challenges I’m facing while my body is still sitting there typing the words. There are no expectations about word choice, grammar or rhythm, and I can simply focus on processing my thoughts.

But, in the spirit of the written tradition to pass on one’s own knowledge and ideas, it’s time to pull a few of those thoughts outside of my own notebook and share them with anyone who is interested or curious enough to read them. This will be my small drop in the bucket of collective human knowledge.