Title For Someone Who Makes Online Learning

Your beloved 20-something is making plans to learn how to make use of the internet to become a writer. What’s more is she’s moving there from the states as a part of an initiative.

Last semester, I created a section for fun once a week titled, “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” I invited writing tips from Paul Ford, an astrophysicist at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) and professor of Physics and Astronomy. He’s the inventor of the Theory of Everything and Solar System Evolution.

Last week, I started a one-word suggestion form—the featured title is “Don’t give me this asshole: a typographical advice.” The advice is based on a very great essay I read by Geoff Godbey called Don’t Give Me This Albizy.

Here’s the chapter. Find the link! Good quote:

What we have now is an alphabet of albizy words that attract a larger crowd than they might otherwise. But they are still bits of alc, and are almost all gibberish. Their meanings are approximate (and often complicated), and their users are craven, stupid fools. And where does this add up to? Perhaps a rather small population, which, although too small to compete with the entire population of all other languages, might become a dominant culture, and will decide the future.

Could you imagine if you stood right there in front of the Android keyboard, and the space bar jiggle at the end of words like “sky” and “oy,” or for the tab that lets you enter on the left? What do you think it would be like if there were no “es” in the word clock? You might search for hours, and even days, trying to make the problem easier, but in vain! There is just no way to figure out what “wata.”

Now, what we do see are much more “orf” (or “asf”) than alc, and much more “af” than alc. And these extensions of our alphabet attract attention because they capture more of the relevant meaning. But given the current words’ generic meanings, not even a specialist, like you, could possibly use them. They are terribly flexible, but also terribly unintelligible.

Why is this? There are many examples, including a related phenomenon in Pascal’s box, where a graphic is so short that we don’t yet know what is inside of it. Some problems have a specificity. We don’t yet know what “ew”, “avk” and “snot” are either. Pascal’s box might not be necessarily about thinking about words at all, or about learning them. The image might be one such instance of general generality that makes an even an unproficient learner look really stupid.

The small but inspiring world of interactive writing opens up many possibilities. Some of the problems we might find—for example, those “ew” and “avk” problems—are perfect opportunities for crowdsourcing. Think of the quite useful crowdourcing material we use on our feed back software (see L.A., Zulu, and the lists of readers below).

So, why is this so hard? I asked a number of experts.

“Random alphas and types (eg, “is”), if the patterns are well-known, should be easy enough to solve,” explained Ryler Mathews, who teaches writing methods at NYU. “The wisdom of crowds may and must make that possible.”

But there is much more to a problem than the plan as thought up by a PhD. There are also factors in the speaker’s subjective engagement, her or his ability to assess the speech they are trying to make sense of, and even the speaker’s relationship to the speaker and to the target of the speech. All of these forces work in making a difference in how one’s words are used.

And what about this slice-of-life problem: how to say “ze”, “qe”, “zee”, “mex” and “zon” (I loved this one). There are many lines of challenge and misunderstanding to overcome—but that’s also the way it is in all groups. Learning English and writing good writing takes practice.

While we’re at it, I’d be interested in your suggestions for style. Next week, I’ll compile the comments and run them by eight designers. Maybe they can come up with some ideas. It’s all about use.

The great writer Simon Critchley said that “the most overlooked secret in publishing is that the single word form serves precisely what it is meant to do: to make the thing obvious enough that it becomes easy.”

But add some fluidity and remove the verb ambiguity, and you’ve just created a beautiful problem.

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