Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder
Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2012 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.
When I was young, my family told me, over and over again, that I had no common sense. It still hurts me to think about this. When I didn't understand how to do something, or why, or I did some household task wrong or whatever, they told me that I didn't have common sense. (I have no memories of the mistakes or of any other correction and help, just the "no common sense" complaint; my memories are as jumbled and incomplete as anyone's.) They never told me how I could learn common sense. It was just this urgently necessary knowledge that everyone else had and I didn't, and it was connected to their belief - which I accepted - that I was inherently unable to get along by myself "in the real world."
In the nineties I saw a PBS series about computing that mentioned Cyc, the effort to just tell a computer all this stuff, and it stuck with me. I sympathized so much with that computer; in retrospect, I think I was envious of it, because someone was systematically trying to give it all the data it would need.
To this day I hate phrasings like "common sense" and "real world," because of their inherent assumptions and implicit exclusions, and I try to be generous with newbies in my communities who don't know our specific practices. See the "no feigning surprise" norm. Today's xkcd approaches it from an unimpeachably quantitative point of view, and I hope that helps prevent some of the qualitative hopelessness and despair I felt. Kids want to learn; don't belittle them for not knowing something already.
11 May 2012, 20:01 p.m.
13 May 2012, 15:42 p.m.
14 May 2012, 2:40 a.m.
14 May 2012, 11:29 a.m.
15 May 2012, 17:35 p.m.