The Real Significance of WikiLeaks

The shock value of the WikiLeaks revelations have been dissected and analyzed to death. There would seem to be consensus that we didn’t learn much we didn’t already know from the recent flood of documents exposed by the site. There seems to be less consensus about whether these leaks represent a new transparency or a danger to international diplomacy.

None of these, it seems to me, represents the real significance of WikiLeaks. The real story comes from the spontaneous eruption of support for Julian Assange on the internet. I don’t just mean the spontaneous rallying of public opinion via the net. I mean the guerilla actions of hackers who attacked, en masse, Visa and Mastercard computers when they closed down payment services for WikiLeaks.

We seem to be headed for a world in which the existing power structures – governments, multinational corporations, economic alliances, etc. – are having to face, more and more, parallel structures – call them communities of interest, if you like – that run detours around the usual circuits, and circumvent the usual “avenues of power.”

It’s clear that this is just the beginning.  How far will it go, and is it a good thing?

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The Ends of Books

One of these days, I’m going to read the ends of most of the non-fiction books I’ve picked up in the last few years.

The truth is, often I start a book, and one of two things happens:

  • The book is really boring, I put it down and never pick it up again.  This is the easy one.
  • The book is really interesting, it generates so many good ideas it makes my wisdom teeth ache, and all I can think of doing is writing down my thoughts, underlining the great passages in the book, and getting excited about all this.

The second event is the more difficult one – because inevitably, I get so knotted up in my own paths running out in so many directions from a truly stimulating book, that I never get around to finishing the book.

In theory, a book is a portable, random-access, mass storage device.  Emphasize the random-access part.  Non fiction books, today, are not necessarily meant to be read in linear sequence, they are designed more like web sites, ideal for jumping around in, as you search the parts that interest you most.  But I grew up in the era of linear book reading, and I can’t quite lose the habit.  I always think I’m going to miss some important link to something earlier in the book.

This is certainly nonsense, but it wouldn’t be the first, nor the last, nor the silliest of my silly habits.  The result is that I have rarely read the parts in “the back of the book.”  I also harbour the secret notion that this is where the real interesting “meat” of the book is located.  Probably also nonsense, but then, if you spent years dealing with textbooks as part of your education, you understand about the “advanced” stuff being at the end.

So, one day, I’m going to pick up all those unfinished books, and just jump to the end, and read only the parts I’m really interested in.

Meanwhile, some advice for non-fiction authors who want to reach people like me (and I’ll bet they mostly already know this):  Put all your good stuff up front, and use the back of the book for – um – er – backup.

Where do you go from here?

I remember one company where I worked – a very large multinational that has a meatball for its logo – where they considered hiring all us contractors on as staff members. We were asked if we were interested.  We mostly all said yes, we had nice interviews, and then – then…………

………well, they decided not to hire any of us.  Why?  “You’re not engineers – there’d be nowhere for you to advance in this company.”

Our profession needs to sit down with HR people and give them the straight goods on the multiple skills, talents and capacities of technical communicators.  Most of us are what author Barbara Sher calls “scanners” – people who refuse to do just one thing.

Paths for advancement?  Just let us at them – we’ll figure the rest out for ourselves, Mr. or Ms. HR…

First Rant

I am a technical communicator.

“So what is it, exactly, that you do?”  I hear this a lot from people, even people that know me for many years.

It used to be easier to explain:  “You know, those manuals that come with products, or software, you know, the ones nobody ever reads?  Well, I write them.”

Except, I don’t anymore.  My profession has become something transcendental, mysterious if not actually mystical.  It is a great way to learn all kinds of new skills, and to mix three things that are my passion:  Communication, Culture and Technology.

It is a great profession, and a great time to be in this profession.  And that’s what this blog is about.