Friday, December 07, 2007

Its not compensatory, its different

The NYT suggests that business acumen may be compensation for Dyslexia.

As the guy who introduced the spelling for the HTTP referer field, I think that they are wrong. Its not compensation, its just an intrinsic difference in the way some people's brain's process information that has advantages and disadvantages.

As a species we have been literate for a mere four millennia, mass literacy is an even more recent phenomenon. Our visual and neural systems have not evolved to read and write, rather we have developed methods of reading and writing that are compatible with the way that the bulk of the population process information. It is hardly suprising that the result does not suit some people.

Some part of intelligence is certainly innate. While I do not eliminate the possibility that innate intelligence might be measured I do reject the notion that purported 'IQ' tests produce valid results outside the scope of use for which they were originally designed: Measuring the progress of sub-normally intelligent patients in response to therapy. Whatever intelligence is, it is not a linear quantity and it is relatively independent of motor and coordination skills such as reading.

In an information economy, average knowledge worker skills quickly become commodified. Coding is a relatively valuable trade skill, a Cobol or FORTRAN programer makes much more than a blacksmith or saddlemaker, but its a commodity skill. The skill that has value in an information economy is the ability to think differently.

Society places a great deal of pressure on people to think alike and not voice opinions that are outside the bounds of accepted wisdom. The herd instinct in our species is still ver strong. This has benefits in that without the herd instinct it would be impossible for us to live in densely populated cities as we do. Civil society would be impossible. The downside is that when we end up with foolish or incompetent leaders most of the population will be only too happy to fall into step with their way of thinking.

My problem is that I read too fast, much faster than I can properly process the information. I don't see the letters in the words. The problem is worst when reading low density information such as computer manuals. The upper level cognitive functions demand interesting information at an acceptable rate. If they find none they tell the reader function to scan faster and faster, causing the error rate to climb until the result is just a stream of noise.

Often the problem is that while I am reading something interesting I start thinking about implications and connections. I have read McLuhan several times but can barely remember a word because I value the book not for what McLuhan wrote but for the ideas I get while reading it. Thus I am indifferent to the question of whether he was right or wrong on any particular issue, in fact on most issues I can remember, the sage of Toronto is dead wrong. Television is not a cold media, it is hottest of hot, certainly after the introduction of color and larger screens.

If you don't have the ability to read and think at the same time you are probably going to do a better job of reading.

As a result I am very particular about good typography. Chapter and section headings function as frame markers, allowing the reader process to resynchronize. While proofreading The dotCrime Manifesto I was suprised to find that the house style is to put definition of terms in bold rather than the traditional italic, but this makes a huge amount of sense when you are scanning text for a particular term. Bold is designed to make a term leap to the eye.

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