A letter, and why I’m a pompous arse

Yesterday morning I received a hand written letter through the door for the first time in quite a few years. It made me feel a bit of a fool for making really daft assumptions, so I thought I would share it. Sadly, my scanner is down at the moment, and the photos I have tried to take don’t seem to come out legibly – I’ll sort it when I’ve hit the right spot of the printer with the right sized hammer.

A touch of background first – my friend Suw wrote a novella called Argleton which I reviewed here. It’s worth having a look at the other reviews too – I think so far they have all been 5*, with one exception at 4*. That suggests you should read it, and if you do and like it, you could look at her next project which she is currently working on and will be funding through Kickstarter. I bought a handbound hardback version of Argleton, which is really nicely done.

This novella was sitting in my living room a couple of days ago when my mother-in-law-to-be* was round two nights ago. As she was leaving, she said, entirely unprompted, ‘Oooh, that’s a nice notebook’, and picked up Argleton to look at the mapping on the cover. I explained that while it was a very nice little book, it was a novella rather than a notebook. She immediately looked interested. As you saw in my review, the book is quite geeky, and a bit technology driven. This suited me perfectly because I live in my smartphone and work in technology development. My mother-in-law-to-be is much less knowledgeable about and interested in technology. I was a bit wary about lending it to her in case she didn’t really get it.

The next morning I got the book and the letter through my door.

The letter reads:

Dear pixie359,

Thanks very much for lending me the novella, I really enjoyed it. Well written dialogue and description.

I was trying to work out why you thought it might be a bit too ‘technical’ when it is basically a romance and sci-fi mystery and map co-ordinates and avatars. The nearest analogy I can come up with (it is rather late at night) was to think in terms of knitting or similar craft a.k.a. technical activity.

One can know that there are many sources of fibre to make yarn, and that these come in different staple lengths and textures and can be spun and worked in different ply. Needles come in a range of sizes, including circular, and with a simple combination of needle and yarn you can create many different stitches, which can combine to change both the surface pattern (moss) the thickness (aran), and properties (e.g. ribs). The end result can be as simple as a single stitch blanket square or a complicated 3d structure.

One can know all this, or even just some of it and guess at more. It would be perfectly possible to read and enjoy a novella where the plot hinges on the technicalities of knitted fabrics and the designers of these whilst having very minimal skills in actual, hands-on knitting and perhaps not enjoying the process of knitting. Does that make sense?

I’m glad I asked about the book – there is something pleasing about a small, well bound book with a good cover design that is very pleasing. I noted you were mentioned in the acknowledgments!

Mother-in-law-to-be x

Now, reading that teaches me more about knitting than I knew before, and as she says is easy to follow, and wouldn’t get in the way of a good story at all. More importantly, it teaches me that I was probably being both pompous and condescending in thinking she wouldn’t appreciate the story because of the technology. I don’t know if she noticed, but looking back I certainly do.

Of course she would be able to understand and enjoy a story that used technology. I think I let the fact that she doesn’t use, or really want to use, technology in the way that I do lead to an unrecognised prejudice about her ability to appreciate its use in a story. Not understanding a tool doesn’t mean you don’t understand the way people interact with it. I should have credited her ability to read and understand a story – extrapolating from ability to use a smartphone to ability to read a book about smartphones is ridiculous, and suggesting she might not enjoy or get it was hugely patronising.

Further, and more importantly, people that don’t feel at home at computers and mobile devices are not less intelligent, interested or aware (not that I have ever thought she was any of those things), they just interact with the world differently from me.

So, I’ve caught myself making an insulting assumption, and I apologise for it both to mother-in-law-to-be and anyone else who I have made such assumptions about.

If you have been affected by me being a pompous arse, please, to make up for it you can borrow my copy of Argleton.



*There will be no mother in law jokes – we get on really well, she is absolutely lovely, and while I may accidentally be a pompous arse occasionally I am not intentionally unpleasant

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