[Originally published in my 100Stickmen Tech musings notebook. Before it was 100Stickmen Tech.]
The main cause of incomprehensible prose is the difficulty of imagining what it’s like for someone else not to know what you know. – Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style
From The Sense of Style:
The Curse of Knowledge: a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know.
The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation of why good people write bad prose. It simply doesn’t occur to the writer that her readers don’t know what she knows—that they haven’t mastered the argot of her guild, can’t divine the missing steps that seem too obvious to mention, have no way to visualize a scene that to her is as clear as day. And so the writer doesn’t bother to explain the jargon, or spell out the logic, or supply the necessary detail.
Pinker’s Advice for writers and speakers on lifting the curse:
The key is to assume that your readers are as intelligent and sophisticated as you are, but that they happen not to know something you know.
Pinker’s Advice for readers and listeners on falling under the curse:
Richard Feynman once wrote, “If you ever hear yourself saying, ‘I think I understand this,’ that means you don’t.”
Lifting — or even denting — this curse on technology and technologist knowledge is crucial to extending everyone’s digital era acumen, understanding one another, and doing better work.
To borrow from Ladislav Sutnar: the 100 Stickmen [Tech] project aims always to intensify comprehension.