Thursday, July 28, 2011

It's complicated.

I just logged into the manuscript management system of a journal that will remained unnamed and was greeted by this information icon plus message.

Is this system really user friendly or is it exactly the opposite? The page goes on to state, "So please do look at the .... hints and warnings that we’ve put in the green box at the top of each page. They will save you time and ensure that your work is processed correctly."

I identify with this sentence. I am always telling people that they are probably not going to understand everything I am saying. It sounds like standard US-English, but I speak fast, with a lot of unexpected vocabulary, large dynamic range and obscure cultural references and I have just enough of a regional accent. People who easily follow fast paced Hollywood movies think they should understand me. But really, I tell them, the skills just might not transfer and it might not be your fault.

I started warning people after years of trying to slow down and choose simple vocabulary. I still try to do this in formal, large group situations with people I don't know very well. However, there are just too many people that insist on speaking English with me: the other languages I speak are drying up and dying and my English will go that way as well if I don't occasionally take it for a walk and deploy it in its full erratic richness. Somehow, I do really identify with this system: "Hey, World! I'm complicated. Deal with it."

And, like this system, I ensnarl myself in some sort of paradox of self-reference. If I don't speak in a way that will allow people to understand me -- how can I expect them to grasp that I want to communicate to them that I might be difficult to grasp? Will I ever succeed in motivating anyone to bring up the extra dose of patience and attention that it takes to follow me? Won't they be suspicious of me if they know I know that I am difficult to understand and also that I am not doing anything about it? Can I ever convince anyone that the effort is worth the payoff?

Likewise: Can we except that the system is indeed being self-explanatory when it claims of itself that it is not self-explanatory? Is it worth the effort and patience it takes to cut through that knot? In the end it's a matter of trust. I smile at the message and the information icon and consider how to move forward.

In the end, I decide to whip off a blog post, sighing when the word "ensnarl" can't be typed without a red misspelling line under it, and return to my attempt to extract the manuscript I'm supposed to be reviewing from the system.

I now sympathize with the interface. The message has worked: I've agreed that it's ok to be complicated.