Ignorance and Expertise

22 Sep

The readings this week all fall under the above heading. I felt this set of readings was really important for me this week, although probably not for the reasons the authors intended.  I feel now that it is OK that I don’t really understand the intricacies of the different languages, it’s enough that I recognize that they’re out there and know where to get help with them.  It’s like acknowledging that while I can translate French or Italian myself, and I could learn Finnish or Swahili, I could also go to and get translations there.  It’s not the same but it’s still OK.  It’s also still OK for me to think that my computer is run by a hamster on a wheel and little green men.  The problem I have is that my generation is still filled with the self-taught, and, at least among geeks, to not be self-taught (or at least conversant) is a major flaw.  The readings here have shown that it’s not a bad thing to not be able to be somewhat clueless, as long as I KNOW I don’t know, and I know where to go for the answer.  One more analogy – it’s OK to not be able to change my own oil as long as I know I need to go to JiffyLube every 3 months.

Ignorance includes the Nielson articles already discussed by several other posters.  Nielson’s point that if the majority of your users are having trouble with your site, the problem is with the site, not the user, seems blatantly obvious.  I would say that it is so obvious it’s obscure.  There are some things that are SO simple and SO straightforward that we completely miss them.  I’m sure we’ve all had something happen to us that points that out.

Regarding expertise, my impression of both Williams & Tollett’s (W&T) book and C&R’s book is that they’re both giving essentially the same information.  W&T are much more in depth on the technical front, and C&R are, by necessity, much briefer.  I began W&T first and then moved on to C&R.  C&R’s discussion is MUCH more accessible to me and I ended up reading all of C&R before completing W&T.  Some of the concepts discussed in W&T were much clearer after I read the corresponding C&R passages.  It’s a good combination and it cleared up some confusion i had.

One point I wanted to pull out – on page 260 of C&R, they state “…if your head is spinning even slightly from this brief discussion of XML/XSL/XSLT, you will likely have to outsource the creation of the more complex documents and translators.”  After the W&T book’s attitude of “anyone can do this”, it’s refreshing to find someone who says I don’t have to master this as well, I can get help and that’s perfectly acceptable.  it’s a very small thing, but a very important one.  Often, just being provided with alternatives makes learning a given skill easier.


Posted by on September 22, 2009 in Readings


4 responses to “Ignorance and Expertise

  1. DeadGuyQuotes

    September 22, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    Anyone can do it… but it involves resource management, namely time and interest.

    Learning the technical skills to develop things W&T talk about is not that difficult, but it takes time and considerable focus. To get good and comfortable at it involves substantial experience. With at least some knowledge and some experience you can approach new history projects better suited for digital development from the beginning… or at least you can have a digital outcome in mind as you develop the project.

    If the digital is of no interest, then you need at least enough background to be an effective project manager for your vision (this background will also greatly inform your vision of what is possible).


    • zaynawoman

      September 22, 2009 at 5:51 pm

      The point I was trying to make at the end was that being given the alternative makes it easier to learn the skill set. I know that I don’t have to learn the ins and outs, I just need to have enough of an overview to know what I don’t know. Then I can get the expert assistance I need and not get screwed over.

      (And you’re sitting right next to me, you could have just asked!) 🙂


      • DeadGuyQuotes

        September 22, 2009 at 5:56 pm

        Actually… the point was more subtle. I am suggesting that, to be an acceptably talented digital historian one needs a much wider breadth and depth of knowledge and technical skill. Further, the expertise required is often quite expensive for the poor and underfunded historian. It may be cheaper in the long run to spend the time getting some basic skills now.

        (and I didn’t want to talk to you … we are in the “silent study” floor at the library… and I NEVER break the rules)


  2. Kelli Garner

    September 26, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    Really nice posts. I will be checking back here regularly.


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