“On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.” – Stewart Brand
I have written more than a few essays on the importance of open and effective communication. As our audience grows and the threat of context collapse looms we must take care to write with complete context. The extra effort required is a natural impediment to the frequency and candor of communication but one I continue to encourage people to work through. I still believe this.
But communication is a two way street and today I want to talk about the other side of the coin. While most of my writing has gone into the art and importance of communicating, that is only half the story. There is also an art to gathering information. Each of us brings our own context (or lack thereof) to everything we stumble across and as topics increase in complexity we naturally have less of a shared understanding. We often may not even have sufficient context to ask the right question. And our misunderstanding can easily compound.
If my previous advice was to be more intentional when writing, my current advice is that we must insist people be more intentional when reading. But reading and writing require asymmetric effort and so to accomplish that goal I believe we must manage the audience of our writing more carefully. Well-meaning people should be able to get access to information which has a legitimate chance of improving their work, but I don’t consider requesting access to such information to be too high a bar any more than I consider asking people to write more clearly to be too high a bar. These are the natural consequences of work of meaningful scale and importance.
Communication in smaller groups simply doesn’t need as much context to be added to each post because people in those groups already share more. It is precisely to avoid the overlap between people without sufficient context and content without sufficient context. This eases some of the burden on authors of being pitch perfect. Because the alternative is that everything is open but nobody is talking. And that would be much worse.