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

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Blogging

I haven’t had the anxiety or pain budget to do much in-the-trenches advocacy and DEI work with y’all, but I manage to publish some neurodiversity and DEI related posts as I go about my reading. Here are a few months of highlights.


I particularly recommend the study I quote in “Neurominorities, Spiky Profiles, and the Biopsychosocial Model at Work” to all DEI and HR workers.

Neurominorities, Spiky Profiles, and the Biopsychosocial Model at Work

Selected quote:

The aim of occupational accommodations for neurominorities is to access the strengths of the spiky profile and palliate the struggles.


A “design for equity, inclusion, and pluralism” cheatsheet, of sorts, that I use to remind myself:

Just Sayin’

Selected quote:

There is no path to equity that does not involve a direct confrontation with inequity.

Inequities are primarily power and privilege problems.

Source: Basic Principles for Equity Literacy


Cognitive diversity exists for a reason. Selections on neurodiversity evolutionary history with dollops of positive niche construction, collaborative morality, and cultural evolution:

Cognitive diversity exists for a reason.

Selected quote:

Human cognitive diversity exists for a reason; our differences are the genius – and the conscience – of our species.

Source: A Thousand Rivers – Carol Black


The fidgets that got me through 2020:

Favorite Fidgets 2020


Image work diversity fails our realities.

Image Work Diversity vs. The Reality of Me

Selected quote:

“They wanted to have my presence, but not me exactly. They wanted to have the idea of me being at Google, but not the reality of me being at Google,” Gebru said.

Source: Researcher Timnit Gebru Says Google Wanted ‘My Presence, But Not Me Exactly’ : NPR


Are we using the right amount of strategic essentialism with our Employee Resource Groups?

Strategic Essentialism and Employee Resource Groups


We all need some digital sociology if we’re gonna be in the platform business.

The need for digital sociology is now.


“Nothing about us without us” is an ethical prime directive.

Dr. Gebru, NAUWU, and DEI

Selected quote:

I first heard the expression “Nothing About Us Without Us” in South Africa in 1993. Michael Masutha and William Rowland, two leaders ofDisabled People South Africa, separately invoked the slo- gan, which they had heard used by someone from Eastern Europe at an international disability rights conference. The slogan’s power derives from its location of the source of many types of (disability) oppression and its simultaneous opposition to such oppression in the context of control and voice.

Source: NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US: Disability Oppression and Empowerment


“Do not be the oppressor” is another guiding star. Check this talk for how to do more than image work diversity.

Do Not Be the Oppressor: Unlocking the Power of Employee Resource Groups

Selected quotes:

“Show me the money, and I’ll show you the outcome.”

“How are you gonna drive a DEI strategy with absolutely nobody in place to maintain continuity and accountability?”

“If you don’t have a dedicated person, how do you further this work?”

Obviously and exactly, yet so many companies lack a DEI head, including my own.


None of us should be in the behaviorism business.

The Problem with Behaviorism

Selected quote:

Skinner won; Papert lost. Thorndike won; Dewey lost. Behaviorism won.

https://rnbn.blog/2020/10/10/2121/


A reflection on past iterations of me:

Tech Ethics, Roaming Autodidacts, and the White-Male Effect

Selected quote:

I very much resemble the roaming autodidact. Tech and open source are full of us. It took longer than I’d like to admit for me to recognize the white-male effect in my own thinking. “A form of cognition that protects status” is an apt summary, especially for roaming autodidacts who’ve lived and believe the meritocracy myth.


So much whelm.

Titrating the Whelm: Perceptual Capacity and Autistic Burnout

Selected quote:

The divergent ways in which we process the world around us can also leave us fatigued and sapped of energy, as autistic people have “higher perceptual capacity” than our neurotypical counterparts, meaning that we process greater volumes of information from our environment. Autistic people commonly use the concept of ‘spoon theory‘ to conceptualize this experience of having limited energy resources.

Source: Doing More by Doing Less: Reducing Autistic Burnout | Psychology Today


So much stress.

Autism, Trauma, and Stress

Selected quote:

Recently it has been suggested that individuals with ASD are at an increased risk of experiencing potentially traumatic events and being significantly affected by them (Haruvi-Lamdan et al., 2018; Kerns et al., 2015).

Source: Autism Spectrum Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: An unexplored co-occurrence of conditions – Nirit Haruvi-Lamdan, Danny Horesh, Shani Zohar, Meital Kraus, Ofer Golan, 2020


Hannah Gadsby on social anxiety, social exhaustion, routine, masking, autism and gender norms, being perceived as angry, getting feedback, observing patterns, competition, autistic stereotypes, processing time, autistic appreciation of comedy, diagnosis and misdiagnosis, functioning labels, toxic masculinity, thinking in terms of neurobiology instead of gender, eugenics, patriarchal devices, storytelling, comedy and trauma, neurodivergence in comedy, cruelty in comedy, fitting in, shame, failure and success, and religion:

https://rnbn.blog/2020/12/19/2165/

Selected quote:

What is yourself? It’s a way of being in the world that doesn’t feel exhausting.


I discovered “Uncomfortable Labels: My Life as a Gay Autistic Trans Woman” through the Queer ERG at work. Here’s a selection on internet socialization:

https://rnbn.blog/2020/12/19/2169/

I added that to my “Written communication is the great social equalizer” post:

https://rnbn.blog/2020/12/21/2173/

And another relatable quote, this one on isolation and sensory overwhelm:

Overwhelm and Isolation: It’s pretty hard to feel alone in a world this constantly loud.

The whole book is full of relatable moments.


Currently reading:

Selected quotes.


What DEI stuff are y’all reading and blogging?

Just Sayin’

Design for real life.

Design for pluralism.

Solve for the infinity.

Foreground complexity as the baseline.

Multiplicities are an intention: We build the best collaboration, the deepest learning, when we expand the opportunities for complex vision.


Design is tested at the edges.

Compassion is not coddling.


Human cognitive diversity exists for a reason; our differences are the genius – and the conscience – of our species.

To face the challenges of the future, we’ll need the problem-solving abilities of different types of minds working together.

Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general.

Difference is not our deficit; it’s our operating system.

Diversity is strength. Difference is a teacher. Fear difference, you learn nothing.


The right to learn differently should be a universal human right that’s not mediated by diagnosis.

Written communication is the great social equalizer.

To not presume competence is to assume that some individuals cannot learn, develop, or participate in the world. Presuming competence is nothing less than a Hippocratic oath for educators.

Noncompliance is a social skill.

Laziness does not exist.

It’s not about behavior.

If a person’s behavior doesn’t make sense to you, it is because you are missing a part of their context.

Design learning where there is no option for oppression.


There is no path to equity that does not involve a direct confrontation with inequity.

Inequities are primarily power and privilege problems.

You cannot counter structural inequality with good will. You have to structure equality.

We are all accountable to the urgent work of building a more just, more equitable world.


By focusing on the parts of the system that are most complex and where the people living it are the most vulnerable we understand the system best.

When we make things for people at their worst, they’ll work that much better when people are at their best.

Everything we do publicly can be made more inclusive and uplifting with intersectionality, and everything we do can become exclusionary and oppressive without it.

When we build things – we must think of the things our life doesn’t necessitate. Because someones life does.

A mismatched interaction between a person and their environment is a function of design. Change the environment, not the body.


Putting care—not just care work, but care—at the center of our economy, our politics, is to orient ourselves around our interdependence.

Care is an organizational structure needed to keep our nation running. It’s, by definition, infrastructure.

Care work makes all other work possible.


Fix injustice, not kids.

Free, life-changing, and available to everyone.

Provide freedom to those who deal with a world that’s built to be hostile toward them.


Nothing about us without us.

We exist as friction.


Embracing pluralism is good citizenship. Democracy demands equal accommodation.

Default to open.


Do not be the oppressor.

People suffer, and when they do, it’s for a reason.