Why are people so reluctant to explain stuff?
Originally posted on my Medium page on April 28, 2018.
In the current economy you have to keep learning to keep up. At least that is what everybody is telling one another. I agree, but I think it’s not the complete story. People should always be learning, not only in “these times”. It doesn’t matter if it’s for your work, a hobby, or something else that you are passionate about.
In this post I don’t want to discuss the first. That should be the easy one. “Just” discuss with your boss what you need or want to learn and ask them to pay for the necessary schooling. But if it’s something private, being a hobby or your newly found business, you probably don’t have the monies needed to pay for these overpriced courses. No worries though, because nowadays we have the Internet, right? Sure, you can Google your way out of almost anything. But for me, that’s where the agony starts.
Internet forums = jargon paradise
Before we started our business, I didn’t really know what to do with my free time, so I tried getting some hobbies. Most failed miserably (only running and reading really stuck), but in hindsight they all helped me define what I’m good at, what I’m passionate about and what I really should not be doing. What struck me most, while trying to get into something new, was the steep initial learning curve. People who wrote blog posts or were commenting on forums would use jargon without explaining what it meant and mostly weren’t able or simply refused to dumb it down far enough for novices like me to understand. Let me give you three examples:
- I tried building and configuring a file-/development-/backup server with a firewall. It works, but it cost me so much time and still it’s a black box to me. I have yet to find an understandable, yet detailed enough course/manual/tutorial about how to configure a firewall for example. Luckily it works and, although I have no idea how, I’m pretty proud. We use it everyday for jodiBooks, storing our data and testing the website. As this is so important for our business, as soon as we make enough profit, we’ll hire someone to run this for us.
- As I’m also into plants, but have no idea how to water them properly, I wanted to use technology to help me out. I tried to build my own electric circuit to charge a small battery using solar power to feed a sensor which would light a LED when the plant was thirsty. I went through a lot of forums and I found some parts for my circuit (I think), but I couldn’t find anyone who could explain in detail what every component exactly does, so I could actually understand and build the electronics.
- Next to houseplants, I would love to have my own vegetable garden. I think it’s awesome to grow and eat your own food. But living in an apartment on the 5th floor, only having a balcony, makes that a little hard. So I’m experimenting small. Growing a, meaning one, tomato plant, some herbs (Diana loves the mint) and a chili plant. It doesn’t really work though. I think it’s a little too dark, but mostly because I have no idea what to do. Where and when do I cut some leaves? Why can’t I find a website with clear instructions and without jargon?
I imagine jargon is used in almost any field. From arts to engineering and from health care to finance. At jodiBooks we see this all the time when it comes to finance and law. It is understandable. You need jargon to make communicating more efficient and next to that it improves group cohesion, something every human likes, even craves. People want to show they have what it takes to belong to a group and by using the right jargon, you prove you are willing to abide by the groups unwritten rules.
The people in the group have spent a lot of time gaining knowledge in their fields and have probably build considerable experience over that period. So obviously there is a huge knowledge gap between the pros and you, the novice. The novice mostly is eager to learn and the pro is maybe even more eager to show his knowledge and gain status. Frustrating and weirdly enough, the novices mostly get scoffed at for asking the wrong questions in the wrong place. I’ve seen somebody asking for X, getting put off with an answer that if he didn’t know what Y was, he had to sod off and only come back when he knew. After asking where he could learn Y, he was told he should post that question in another topic.
This might be an extreme example (somehow people working on open source software are particularly impatient), but I have seen this in every field of interest I ventured into. I understand that, for people who are deep into their field/subject of expertise, it can be annoying and tedious to explain the most basic things, but you should never be unfriendly. Everybody has to start somewhere and that’s mostly with the basics.
For me it is really frustrating to not get usable answers. Everything I find is too high level, or it just doesn’t have the detail I need. Mostly an answer results in even more questions. That’s fine if you’re diving into something. You should have a feel there is more. But it is really demotivating when you never seem to converge to an answer or solution or even know where to look for it. Why are there so many people wanting to show of their skills and knowledge (mostly purely to show they are smarter than others) and so little people who can actually teach people how to become as smart and knowledgeable as they are?
I think teaching is a much, much better idea. Sharing information is not a zero-sum game. I’m not here to replace you. If the pros are willing and able to teach the novices, both sides grow and nobody loses. Novices will be happy to do the tedious things as they learn. This opens time for the pros to do more of the “pro-stuff”. In the end the novices will become pros as well, also able to teach (or takeover teaching from other pros). With all these additional people, we can solve even more complex problems and pros can even become more pro, lets call them guru’s. This is exactly how science in general is done at universities, so why can’t we be that cooperative outside of those institutions too?
We all should develop better alternatives to the forums and groups that exist on the Internet now. The Internet has so much potential for teaching, but we don’t do it. Maybe because teaching is hard, or because we are too afraid someone will take our spot in the pecking order. That’s a waste, because with all the complex worldwide problems “these days”, we can use all the brainpower we have. The alternatives we should build would be cooperative and aimed at teaching others instead of being there for insiders who only want to show they’re better. Also they shouldn’t be put completely behind pay walls. Some sites seem to offer useful courses, but up front you have no idea if they are any good.
Building these alternatives, is one of my long term and ultimate goals. I’m starting my quest through jodiBooks, where we want to help people do their business administration, finances and taxes. In fact we actually hope we can teach people how to start and run a business and everything that’s necessary to keep your business healthy and thriving. I hope others will follow in other fields. If not, I will do it myself.