Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The Modesty of Writing

Blogging, e-books, and social networks have all increased the speed at which we communicate—or, from a Luhmannian perspective, how we share our utterances with the communication. For DIY publishers, the Internet is an infinitely rich channel for publishing their own content and making it available to readers and consumers at exactly the same premises as previously professional channels. And that is awesome: the Internet has democratised the way we make available and publish our thought and ideas. Recently, I have become involved in a book on cybernetics and enterprise architecture. The book was initially thought to be available through a DIY publisher and furthermore freely available as an e-book. However, due to increasing interest from traditional publisher, the book will now be published through a traditional publication channel. To me, both opportunities are equally exciting.
However, the rapid speed of immediate “publication” comes at the cost of lack of modesty, patience, and maturity. Some people use blogs to quickly fabricate and churn out trivial variations on the same topic over and over and flood the public sphere with their own opinions in a synthetic, insubstantial manner. Proof-reading is completely unheard of; proper referencing to prior art and information sources is considered almost arcane. Blogging is supposed to be a quick, responsive medium. However, when people post entire book chapters or even book manuscripts through the same source and under the same preconditions, the form and shape of blogging have certainly moved in the wrong direction. The fundamental problem is that people with blogs tend to lack the modesty of traditional writers, academics, and publishers. For blogging “pracademics”, this is furthermore caused by the lack of patience for peer-reviewed publications. Preparing a good paper can take months before it is accepted and published. For the average blogger with lots of intentions, it is, of course, a lot easier to churn out one blog post after another with incoherent fragments of argumentation and structure. If post-modernism had a place in the history of literary shapes and forms, blogging would certainly be its most significant incarnation.
Writers, researchers, and bloggers alike must return to the tradition of when pages were sparse and publication a controlled, rigorous process requiring discipline and modesty. Only through modesty have the most purposeful, unique utterances, be they peer-reviewed publications or news items, been created.


  1. I can understand there have been some misperceptions about the intentions behind this blog post, first and foremost from my friend and fellow enterprise architect, Tom Graves (of Tetradian fame). It is of utmost importance to understand that this blog post was by no means targeted at Tom's (high quality) work.

    Yes, Tom has published a lot and blogs a lot, but all of his writings are of very high quality. Tom is at the forefront of the enterprise architecture community, blog posts or not. Tom was extremely helpful in reading and commenting on my master's thesis on enterprise architecture, and his guidance and thought leadership were highly valuable. Tom deserves my deepest respect in the enterprise architecture community. And, most importantly, he is a really nice guy to be around and always manages to put the world in a puzzling perspective.

  2. Uh... very kind, Anders, though now I'm _definitely_ embarrassed... :-| :-)

    Better put this in perspective for others, I think?

    Anders and I had a great Twitter/email conversation about this piece, just after Anders' first Tweet about it.

    When I first read it, it seemed a painfully accurate description of my own failings as a blogger: over-long posts, too much self-reference, not enough acknowledgement or even awareness of prior art, and so on. Hence with a combination of English self-doubt and perhaps too much of the old song about "You're so vain / I bet you think this song is about you / don't you?", I, uh, panicked. :-( About which point Anders was kind enough to explain that he'd been annoyed at someone else. Phew...

    No reason for me to be complacent, though - in fact none of us have such reason, really. By the nature of this work, we're all going to be 'wrong' much of the time, in various ways: yet the scope of the work is so vast and with so much inherent-uniqueness that it's very difficult to do a conventional scientific-style peer-review.

    In my own case, as I've said a fair few times, most of my blog-writing is 'work-in-progress', rarely more than beta-stage at best: it _needs_ constructive critique. Much of it is also 'thought-experiment', and needs to be honed in real-world practice, in many different contexts - and at the speed that this industry is developing, there's no way I can do all of that myself. Hence, again, I need real critique. Which also means that I have to be willing to _accept_ that critique, too - which ain't always easy... :-( :-)

    As a community, seems to me that we need to develop our own equivalent of the layered structure of peer-review used in the sciences and suchlike, from not-even-half-baked initial idea to tentative hypothesis to semi-formal and then more formal model, and so on. A significant part of EA work is about governance: this is part of our own governance, too. As a discipline, we need a much better balance between pragmatics and praxis - balancing how new ideas interact with existing ideology, and the processes via which we adapt and apply theory in real-world practice. Feels like we still have a long way to go on that. Oh well.

    But that article above is a great reminder on that, Anders: many thanks indeed.