Democratizing Text: Multiplicities, Bicycles for the Mind, and Neurological Pluralism

David Sparks commented on my piece on contextual computing with these thoughtful words on democratizing text.

There is a movement afoot to democratize text and hyperlinking on the web, in apps, and across our computers. For the longest time we’ve been spinning our wheels using computer data (particularly words) as digital approximations of the printed words that came before them. That needs to change. Using hyperlinking and contextual computing, we take the written word (and the underlying paradigm about how we work on a computer) from one dimension and convert it to three dimensions.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this myself and I truly believe dynamic, bi-directional linking across files and apps can dramatically improve the way we use our computers and develop our days. It is the way for computers to truly serve the role as “bicycles for the mind“.

Source: The Growing Movement for Hyperlinking and Contextual Computing – MacSparky

I really like the invocation of “bicycles for the mind”. I want a future of text that enables accessibility, positive niche construction, and differentiated instruction in service to neurological pluralism. “Bicycles for the mind” is useful framing to get us there.

ANI launched its online list, ANI-L, in 1994. Like a specialized ecological niche, ANI-L had acted as an incubator for Autistic culture, accelerating its evolution. In 1996, a computer programmer in the Netherlands named Martijn Dekker set up a list called Independent Living on the Autism Spectrum, or InLv. People with dyslexia, ADHD, dyscalculia, and a myriad of other conditions (christened “cousins” in the early days of ANI) were also welcome to join the list. InLv was another nutrient-rich tide pool that accelerated the evolution of autistic culture. The collective ethos of InLv, said writer and list member Harvey Blume in the New York Times in 1997, was “neurological pluralism.” He was the first mainstream journalist to pick up on the significance of online communities for people with neurological differences. “The impact of the Internet on autistics,” Blume predicted, “may one day be compared in magnitude to the spread of sign language among the deaf.”

Source: The neurodiversity movement: Autism is a minority group. NeuroTribes excerpt.

“Writing is the path to power for those born without power.” We’ve seen that in neurodiversity, disability, and other self-advocacy communities. That’s a big reason why “Multiplicities are an intention: We build the best collaboration, the deepest learning, when we expand the opportunities for complex vision.”

Writing is too important because, though forms and structures will differ, writing is the path to power for those born without power. This importance lies not in how to write a “five‐paragraph essay” or a “compare and contrast” book review but in the capability to clearly communicate visions both personal and collaborative. Whether the work is a tweet that generates action when that is needed, or a text message to an employer, or the ability to convince others in the political realm, or the expression of one’s identity in a form that evokes empathy in those without similar experience, “communicating” “well” is a social leveler of supreme importance.

In both cases, methodology become less important than process. Our students read on paper, or through audio books, or through text‐to‐speech, or by watching video, or by seeing theater – or by observing their world. They write with pens, keyboards large and small, touchscreens, or by dictating to their phones or computers, or by recording audio, or by making videos, or by writing plays or creating art, or playing music. We do not limit the work by attacking those with disabilities or even inabilities – or even other preferences, because that robs children of both important influences and of their individual voices. Multiplicities are an intention: We build the best collaboration, the deepest learning, when we expand the opportunities for complex vision.

Thus we begin by moving the teaching of writing from the training of a specific skill set toward an interpersonal art form that flows from students and builds communities. Then, through the reimagining of teaching places into “learning spaces,” we craft “studios” where all the technologies of school – time, space, tools, pedagogies – liberate and inspire rather than deliver and test. Then, using those recrafted technologies, we allow communication learning to flow.

Source: Socol, Ira. Timeless Learning: How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools (Kindle Locations 3725-3739). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Written communication is the great social equalizer.” Our future of text must respect pluralism and multiplicities. “Digital approximations of the printed words that came before them” often compromise that future. So much of what I see from school is inaccessible in some way. Page-based word processors dominate education while many who write for a living or a hobby are using portable, accessible, and increasingly ubiquitous Markdown, a now 16-year-old technology.

At the 2013 Computers & Writing conference, we (Derek & Tim) started talking about the broad Markdown affinity space: Podcasts, blogs, self-published books, and social media conversations. We were particularly interested in the absence of these conversations within our field. How could a nearly ten-years-old writing technology continue to grow in professional and enthusiast spaces but also be largely absent among those who teach and research writing?

Source: Writing Workflows | Introduction

“Methodology become less important than process.” The answer is not to prescribe Markdown but to support multiplicities, process, and flow. That’s part of the magic of Markdown and plain text and hyperlinks.

I spend a lot of time in text editors. Almost everything I write starts in my favorite text editor. A text editor is my thinking space. It is a place for moving around blocks and tinkering with parts. It is a place to explore my mind and write it the way I want it to read. Iteration and ideation happen in my editor. My notes are not just a record of my thinking process, they are my thinking process. Text editors are extensions of mind that facilitate thinking.

All of this happens in beautiful, wonderful plain text.

Source: Writing in Education and Plain Text Flow

What Sparks and many other proponents of distraction-free applications or Markdown syntax are pointing toward is the importance of workflows that “regulate thought and affect and channel attention and action” (Prior & Shipka 2003, 228). They are pointing to workflows that produce (and are produced by) mental states that support writers in whatever activity they seek to accomplish. For these writers, designing a workflow means crafting a digital environment responsive to physical conditions that supports and helps bring about concentration, focus, creativity, and many other states. Any tour through writing advice from the past one hundred years or so will cover some of the same ground: writers who have morning rituals, who use particular (physical) tools, who depend on specific brands of notebooks for incubation and invention. What we want to point to with these case studies is, first, the benefit of attending more carefully to the role of digital tools and environments and, second, the inseparability of these workflows for writing activity. Workflows aren’t activities that simply precede writing, make writing easier, or make it more enjoyable. Workflows may involve those aspects, but we are suggesting something broader and more foundational: workflows, as we define them here, are what writing activity is made of.

Source: Writing Workflows | Chapter 3

Chronic Neurodivergent Depressed Queer Punk: Punk Rock, the Social Model of Disability, and the Dream of the Accepting Community

Everything that was normally supposed to be hidden was brought to the front.

Source: Punk subculture – Wikipedia

The lyrics referred to the way many people viewed fans of punk rock (who often endured stares, slurs and assaults at the time), but they could just have easily been about people diagnosed with mental illnesses, who are frequently looked down upon as crazy, violent and unintelligent.

A long-standing and influential theory regarding disability is the “social model,” initially advanced by Mike Oliver. The social model argues that “disability” does not reside within individuals, but is actually created by a mismatch between social structures and individual capacities. These structures can include obvious physical barriers (such as stairs, which could make it impossible for people in wheelchairs to enter a school or workplace by themselves), but can also include intolerant social attitudes which make it very difficult for people who don’t act in a manner that is considered “acceptable” to participate socially or avail themselves of community resources.

British human right activist Liz Sayce has specifically extended the social model to explain much of the disability that is experienced by people diagnosed with mental illnesses, and has argued for the establishment of “inclusive communities” to facilitate greater community participation among these individuals.

Source: Punk Rock and the Dream of the Accepting Community | Psychology Today

I found community amidst online genderpunks, neuropunks, and cripplepunks conversant in the social model. Here’s some collected listening that covers a gamut of punk and punk-adjacent music on mental health and living in divergent bodyminds. “Everything that was normally supposed to be hidden was brought to the front.” This playlist, in part, seeks to bring to the front. Suggestions appreciated.

(suicidal ideation, addiction, mania, depression, dysphoria, chronic illness, anxiety, overwhelm, panic, meltdown, masking, burnout, exposure anxiety, rejection sensitive dysphoria, OCD, ADHD, ADD, SPD, bipolar, autism)

https://music.apple.com/us/playlist/chronic-neurodivergent-depressed-queer-punk/pl.u-yZyVVjZtYzXDqW

It’s about rejecting pity, inspiration porn, & all other forms of ableism. It rejects the “good cripple” mythos. Cripple Punk is here for the bitter cripple, the uninspirational cripple, the smoking cripple, the drinking cripple, the addict cripple, the cripple who hasn’t “tried everything”. Cripple Punk fights internalized ableism & fully supports those struggling with it. It respects intersections of race, culture, gender, sexual/romantic orientation, size, intersex status, mental illness/neuroatypical status, survivor status, etc. Cripple Punk does not pander to the able bodied.

Source: Urban Dictionary: Cripple Punk

Before I discovered Cripple Punk – a term originating as an angry post on someone’s blog and transforming into a global movement for disability pride – it never occured to me that I could like my leg braces.

Source: Cripple Punk: The hashtag that helped me wear my disability with pride | Life

Genderpunk: a colloquial term for culture and resistance against gendernormativity; an identity that in and of itself is a resistance against gender norms, homophobia and transphobia, oppression and societal status.

Your gender has nothing to do with your eligibility to be genderpunk. If you agree with the mindset, no matter how you identify, you can be a part of the movement.

Source: Have A Gay Day : What is ‘Genderpunk’?

It is very rare, as a disabled person, that I have an intense sense of belonging, of being not just tolerated or included in a space but actively owning it; “This space,” I whisper to myself, “is for me.” Next to me, I sense my friend has the same electrified feeling. This space is for us.

Members of many marginalized groups have this shared experiential touchstone, this sense of unexpected and vivid belonging and an ardent desire to be able to pass this experience along. Some can remember the precise moment when they were in a space inhabited entirely by people like them for the first time.

Crip space is unique, a place where disability is celebrated and embraced—something radical and taboo in many parts of the world and sometimes even for people in those spaces. The idea that we need our own spaces, that we thrive in them, is particularly troubling for identities treated socially as a negative; why would you want to self-segregate with the other cripples? For those newly disabled, crip space may seem intimidating or frightening, with expectations that don’t match the reality of experience—someone who has just experienced a tremendous life change is not always ready for disability pride or defiance, needing a kinder, gentler introduction.

This is precisely why they are needed: as long as claiming our own ground is treated as an act of hostility, we need our ground. We need the sense of community for disabled people created in crip space.

How can we cultivate spaces where everyone has that soaring sense of inclusion, where we can have difficult and meaningful conversations?

Because everyone deserves the shelter and embrace of crip space, to find their people and set down roots in a place they can call home.

Source: “The Beauty of Spaces Created for and by Disabled People” by s.e. smith in “Disability Visibility: First Person Stories from the 21st Century”.

Community is magic.

Community is power.

Community is resistance.

–Alice Wong, “Disability Visibility: First Person Stories from the 21st Century

Many just went along, step-by-step, down the road. They were the people next door.

You poisoned yourselves heart, mind, and soul with grievance, supremacy, the Southern Strategy, and the Confederate Catechism.

Source: To the family Trumpists

During a heartbroken and angry moment near the beginning of his presidency, I wrote that blog post about and to the Trumpists in my family. Given the crescendo of Trumpism that was the insurrection and the cast of characters involved, that post comes surging back to mind.

In this nicely done speech, Arnold Schwarzenegger recalls the men of his childhood in post-WWII Austria:

Many just went along, step-by-step, down the road. They were the people next door.

My father and our neighbors were misled also with lies, and I know where such lies lead.

To the family Trumpists,

You went step-by-step down the road.

You believed obvious lies.

The generations that succeed you will know you as a cautionary tale.

The Lost Cause provided white Southerners-and white Americans in general-with a misunderstanding of the Civil War that allowed them to spare themselves the shame of their own history.

Source: The Nationalist’s Delusion – The Atlantic

In conversations with my Trumpist family, I hear the Southern Strategy, Lost Cause, Confederate Catechism, traditional segregationist discourse, and Christian Alt Facts. I hear not just a “misunderstanding of the Civil War” but a fundamental misunderstanding of American history, one that “reverses the moral field of American politics and the basic structure of American history.”

The claim that Trump was denied a win by fraud is a big lie not just because it mauls logic, misdescribes the present and demands belief in a conspiracy. It is a big lie, fundamentally, because it reverses the moral field of American politics and the basic structure of American history.

Source: The American Abyss – The New York Times

My Trumpist family avowedly don’t know any of these terms I confront them with. It’s hard to perceive beyond framing you have no vocabulary for, so I curated relevant writing from historians into these blog posts that I wrote as post-conversational therapy.

You are the people next door. I’ve known that since I was a kid who quietly rejected my Southern Baptist upbringing and the people who perpetuated it as morally compromised by bigotry and patriarchal authoritarianism.

This is the shit you taught me. I’m not passing it down.