Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Criticism is a good thing

John Siracusa, from Ars Technica, in his post "Hypercritical":
How is it that Pontiac and Oldsmobile managed to find their way into the hearts and minds of consumers (ask your parents about it) while perfectly competent Dell and HP have not? I contend that it's at least partly because the auto industry has enjoyed a rich history of subjective, high-quality criticism, while the technology industry has been busy measuring megahertz and counting bits.
Siracusa's answer to "feeling" in the PC biz is, of course, Apple. "Devoted customers? Subjective quality over objective specifications? Feelings? Yep, that's Apple," he says.

It's something I know from my work as a writer. I'm infinitely more capable of critiquing someone else's work (as I did as a writing center tutor in college, and as the editor of a newspaper) than I am of finding fault with my own. Given time, I can always find better ways to say something. But at that time, looking at that printed page, I usually fail to find what others can easily spot.

The important thing is to have an opinion, not just some opinion. Siracusa explains:
Even at the extreme end of the spectrum, I have a few kindred spirits. In fact, most geeks have this inclination to some degree, even if it's just nitpicking logical or scientific flaws in a favorite TV show or movie. This is actually a skill worth developing. Have you ever met someone who holds strong opinions but is completely incapable of explaining them? "I really hated that book." "Why?" "I don't know, I just didn't like it." Who wants to be that guy? That's no way to live.
To be educated is to be critical, and education provides the framework for us to think about why something is shit versus not-shit.

Life gets better, my thinking goes, when we work out the flaws - even the little ones - of bad work while at the same time living with "good enough" when it matters. The hard part is knowing the difference.

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