The Silent Observer's Metamorphosis

My friend, Jinto, wrote a blog-post titled Transitioning from learners to observers, which talks about the increasing transition from a learner to being a casual observer of things in this digital era. The availability of a wide range of tools these days to do almost anything, has slowly reduced the need to learn, a very valid observation.

While the usefulness of tools is great, it might fail miserably when you want things certain way, and the tool may not be designed for that. A real life example would be this: in college, ever since the second year, I was using a software called, LyX for creating reports. LyX allows you to create LaTeX documents without the need to actually know TeX, so I never felt the necessity to learn LaTeX, for real. While LyX is a great tool for creating documents, if an error crept in documents somehow, or if you want to create a report with a custom template, then it fails miserably. (Also at the time I was in college, LyX had no support for extended unicode, using XeTeX and the like etc.) So towards the end I had to learn TeX the hard way, when I was pressed for time. A recent conversation took place on #emacs in irc1, where someone asked about the right tools for LaTeX, and possibilities of LyX etc., for which a reply came as while there are a number of tools which may generate LaTeX files for you without having to learn it, errors it generate might set your hair on fire (and this mostly by experience, takes place on the previous night of the deadline, when you see cryptic latex errors that have no end)2

Another thing that is in tandem with the declining reading habit in this era is the works of literature being converted to movies. While movies of literary works may certainly be the easy way out, it may not always do justice to the author’s creative genius in every case. (Of the top 20 IMDB movies, 11 are based on literary works) Reading the 7 Harry Potter books will help in realising why a muggle like J.K.Rowling is a billionaire. While movies tell a great story, the reading experience is unparalleled.

Moving on, one of the reasons for the metamorphosis of a learner to being a silent observer, is the fact that, you’re in a comfort zone when there is a lazy tool to do things for you, and hence there is no real need to try to do things differently. And mostly the learning process gets initiated only when you want things to work in a certain way. For me, this blog was an experiment to learn a little webdesign, while I was comfortable with blogger all along, the fact is, you can blog a lifetime in blogger and still need not know what HTML or css looks like. My requirement was to make a decent site that looks ok in mobile as well (a responsive web design experiment, as some would call it), while the output may not be what you can compare with a web developer’s design, at least I learnt the process of writing a half decent responsive media queries in css. There may be many talented people who can generate a better looking website in less than a tenth of the time I used to create mine, but that certainly doesn’t take away the knowledge aquired in trying to do it, and I believe that is important. As said in article at Simple Programmer, the true goal of learning, which is the ability to put knowledge into action. An english philospher’s famous words were this:

“The great aim of education is not knowledge but action” Herbert Spencer

Ultimately it is picking up something you end up loving and learning about it. Trying to do things in a different way can definitely open new channels. To conclude, I will quote something from Tom Peters, a quote often misattributed to Leanardo Da Vinci, on innovation and success:

“Life is pretty simple: You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works. If it works big, others quickly copy it. Then you do something else. The trick is the doing something else.”

P.S if you haven’t clicked the link to the article Learning to learn at Simple Programmer, do it now, certainly worth a read.

Foot Notes

was taking place in #emacs, well, it all started with TeXmacs + emacs, though ultimately I guess the guy settled with TeXmaker. The former has a (dis)advantage of a steeper learning curve (and might be an overkill if your only aim is to generate tex files, though proviedes an unobtrusive learning environment nonetheless)


  1. If you, like me, were wondering about how a TeX conversation [return]
  2. Also, the channel being emacs, the advice was to use AucTeX [return]