I do quite a lot of work in schools now and I realise today that I have been lying pretty much every time I’ve gone in. Because at some point when I’m talking to the teachers, occasionally when I’m talking with the pupils, I will recount the reason I do this.
Which goes thisaway. When I was at school, my careers teacher laughed at me for wanting to be a writer. I’ve said this before, in case you’ve come to this through some strange Google search that has got you all my mentions of this instead of whatever career laughing advice you were actually looking for.
This fella, whoever he was, laughed at me and got the class to laugh too. It did damage.
What would’ve countered that was if the school had got a writer in to talk to us. Any writer. Even me. Seeing that writing is something possible as a job, that would’ve made a big difference. That’s why I go in. Also, I get paid.
So far, so true, not a word of a lie. The lie comes from how I then explain I went the wrong way instead. I went into computers and actually I still usually think it was the wrong way but it wasn’t half a handy wrong way to go. I worked hard to get out of computers, I got into writing about computers and then I worked hard to get out of writing about computers. Come on, one grey box after another. I’m asleep at the thought.
Flash forward a lot of years and there is nothing grey, nothing boring and if I’m falling asleep it is because I am so bleedin’ tired. But there is computing. Again.
For the past month or so I’ve been writing software reviews for MacNN.com, the Macintosh News Network. I’ve done some sixty pieces for them and I’ve had a ball. Old computing muscles come back and they join new writing ones: I don’t know if you’d like my review writing but I get to do things that are important to me. Specifically this: MacNN feels the same way I do about why one reviews things. There’s never going to be a geek-out analysis where I conclude that X is better than Y because it’s a pixel faster or a megabyte bigger.
Instead, MacNN is all about what does the bloody software do, is it any good at it, and who precisely will benefit? That attitude permeates the entire process starting with what gets picked to review. I should’ve made notes about this but at a guess, I’d say maybe 70% of my reviews have been positive because 70% of them were of software that did something well and useful. Might be a really obscure thing, might not be anything I have the slightest interest in myself, but they do something good for someone.
The key is someone. I think that thinking about people is more interesting than thinking about computers. Thinking who something would be for is certainly like marketing but I think that it’s also like drama. I don’t want to draw too contorted a conclusion here but the best software I’ve used has been really clear about who its audience is.
Just as with drama, when that audience happens to be me, I don’t just like the software, it grabs me. I become evangelical about it. It matters to me.
And the fact that some one or some few people working somewhere in the world can make something, can create something that matters to others, that is drama.
Despite all the other things I’m doing now, not one of which I’d trade you for, there is a certain portion of my week that is back being devoted to computers and computing and software. I have been wondering why I don’t feel like it’s a regression since I previously associated software with my very earliest writing days. The reason is that while the role and the importance of software hasn’t changed since I used to do this, I have. I’ve changed a lot.
The fact that I went into computers does not mean I went the wrong way. I just went a certain way. And in a Mobius-strip like fashion, it has led me on to drama in human and computer form.
You can go back, you just aren’t the same you when you get there.