Skip to main content

The Chair Problem

Words are an amazing thing and the written word is this incredible, magical means to communicate what is in one person's mind to someone else's mind when they have never met and even potentially across time. You can read the written words of people who are no longer alive, sometimes in cases where they died centuries before you were ever born.

But there are lots of ways this form of communication can go wrong. I generally think of this as the chair problem.

Chair is a perfectly useful word but it it somewhat vague. There are many objects that can rightly be called a chair and they differ wildly.

If you are trying to give someone instructions for how to accomplish a thing, telling them to put a chair in that spot is probably not sufficient information, especially if they have to purchase said chair. If they are grabbing one from the supply room or elsewhere in the same building, you may not need to give a lot of specifics because there may be a limited selection of chairs available. But if they are going to buy a chair, they likely need a whole lot more information.

Chair is an equally valid way to talk about a wooden dining chair or a metal folding chair or an overstuffed armchair. These all have different uses and different contexts in which they make some kind of sense and trying to substitute one for another can go very bad places.

There is an outdoor theater in Woodward Park, Fresno, California. When I was in Fresno, they had a bunch of maybe folding chairs or cheap, plastic stackable chairs they would pull out and set up on the grass whenever they were going to do a show.

It doesn't rain a lot in Fresno, about 11 inches a year, so imagine if someeone decided that the nice dry weather meant that overstuffed armchairs was a good idea for this use case. Among other things, the cost would be prohibitive, you would need vastly more storage space and it would take enormously more man power to set them out and put them away.

There would likely be other issues as well. When I was a military wife, I had household goods in storage for sometimes weeks or months at a time and learned the hard way that you get bugs in places you never expected and you get mildew in things you never thought were at risk and assorted other freaky problems that were not anything I expected.

When you write, you deal with the fact that a diverse audience will read it and they will generally run your words through their mind and interpret those words through the lens of their life experience. Inevitably, people will have an assortment of wildly different interpretations for the same words and phrases no matter how hard you try to be clear and precise.

To some degree, it is on the reader to make some effort to try to figure out what is in the author's mind that they are trying to convey. Being too quick to pattern match their words and phrases to your own life experience instead of theirs tends to go weird places.

I think it is this process that accounts for a lot of seeming arguments in the world. Often, it isn't actually an argument at all. It's merely a failure to effectively communicate.

In many cases, two people aren't really talking about the same things. They are talking about entirely different things using some of the same words and phrases.

So before you get all het up and fighty, maybe take a minute to find out exactly what kind of chair they are talking about. It may not at all match what's in your mind that has you ready to pick a fight.

I'm seriously handicapped and not well-heeled. I write in hopes of making a few bucks via tips and Patreon. Please and thank you.

Popular posts from this blog

Me. Woodward Park, Fresno, CA. January 2016.

One of my favorites pics of me.

About twenty years to write and about four minutes to read.

For years and years, I had too little in my Amazon account to qualify for a payout. Fifty cents here and ten cents there just was not adding up to the minimum payout threshold. I got my first very small payout a few months back. It seemed likely to me that it was a consequence of Project Bike Rack adding enough money to my balance to put me over the payout threshold. I also had the impression that the bike racks I was seeing in town and not entirely happy with were not living up to my vision in part because probably someone had bought whatever was readily available through Amazon and I suspected it was likely they did so in part to find some means to kick a few bucks my way. It's generally easier to get money out of people by directing them to affiliate links than by some other means, so you get a lot of garbage websites doing fake "reviews" that are really thinly disguised ads because that's a means to make money online. Clearly, I need to eat but I don&#

Sticky This: See a typo? Submit a pull request.

For the first time ever, I submitted a pull request yesterday to an open source project notifying them of a typo. It was accepted within hours. Submitting the pull request was easy and took almost no time. The process of submitting it gave me valuable prompts, such as "This field is typically no more than 50 characters." I've been on Hacker News for over eleven years. I began wondering how on earth I can contribute to open source as a non-coder a few years back. I've talked to other non-coders who were just as mystified as I was -- or more mystified -- as to how on earth you get into open source as a non coder. So, no, it isn't just me. I spent probably a few hours yesterday trying to sort out how on earth to notify them of their typo. It took me far, far longer to figure out what I needed to do than it took to do it. This is a huge barrier to entry and will stop most people before they begin. Most people simply can't give you three hours of their t