One of my least favorite parts of my job is coding for Internet Explorer. Why would I code a website just for Internet Explorer (abbreviated IE), you ask? I’ll tell you! Unbeknownst to most folks every web browser builds (or renders) the code of a web page differently. In some cases these differences are so slight you might not even notice them; this is the best case scenario. The worst case scenario is Internet Explorer 6 (IE6), a primitive web browser by today’s standards that’s still being used by .5% of people browsing the web. That .5% statistic can be misleading, however, since browsers vary distinctly by topic. High technology websites like cNet or Apple won’t have any IE6 hits at all, while LOLCatz and quilting websites tend to have a ton. One of my clients still has around 15% of its traffic coming in on IE6, despite doing everything it can to persuade them to change browsers.
So, despite my desire to quit coding IE6 and save myself, on average 3-5 hours per site I do, I must endure. Thankfully the client has told me that IE6 doesn’t need to be pixel-perfect and only needs to render as a basic website, which is an order I follow as closely as possible. It still irritates me to leave a site in a knowing state of neglect as I often must do with IE6, but IE6 is so full of bugs and my client’s deadlines are so urgent that many things are left imperfect. Still, as I’m unraveling the series of CSS and HTML bugs that IE6 parses in its own quirky way, I often wonder what the people still using this archaic browser think about my web design. I wonder if they wonder why any professional corporation would leave in some of the imperfections that sometimes get passed over. I personally believe that people surfing the web with IE6 generally don’t have a choice of browsers; they’re using antiquated computers on a public library in some podunk town uninterested in that internet fad, or they’re at the mercy of a particularly autocratic and technophobic employer. Still, there must be some folks out there who still don’t know what a web browser is, or why the internet looks so shitty. They are, in short, people without the ability to question their lens.
Our browsers, be they Firefox, Chrome, Safari or IE of any flavor, are essentially the lenses that we use to examine the code of the internet. I don’t want to get too Matrix-y here since I don’t personally know anyone who can read code and compile a visual image in their head. Even as a professional who’s been writing HTML and CSS for years, I still have to see the code in the browser before I can be sure of what’s going to happen once I type it in. So I’m dependent on the browser to see the code for me, and hope that the people who built the browser focused it well and that it renders the code as closely to the vision of the writer as possible. Thankfully there are people advocating for just that: that all web browsers render as equally and clearly as possible.
It is, of course, the same with people. The video I posted the essay from Google was stunning to me the first time I saw it. How, I thought to myself, can these people live in the world, use the internet on a regular basis and NOT know what a browser is? Some of them must use it every single day and yet they’re totally at a loss for how to describe it. A big part of that is simply vocabulary: the pieces of the computer we know how to use are intuitive to us on a private and personal way from years of practice, but we often learn to use computers through trial and error, and not through descriptive instruction, thus the names of the parts of a computer beyond the keyboard, mouse and monitor may as well be in a foreign language. Coaching my mother and various clients through the contrived and awkward vocabulary of the typical Windows desktop is a painful and fruitless process. Trying to get a lawyer’s wife to remember the difference between a shortcut and a folder was truly daunting, never did I dare teach her the subtle differences between the quick launch bar and the icon tray.
The point is that everyone in that video knows how to use a browser to get what they want out of it, but I suspect that the moment they want to do something beyond navigating to a web page directly, buying something online or finding it in a search engine most of them find themselves neck deep in unfamiliar territory and terminology. In the same way, all of us have learned how to get by in life in one way or another. If you’re reading this you have your life together to a degree decent enough to have access to a computer, the internet and the time to read about a web designer trying to bullshit his way through a bad metaphor. That’s saying something; the ability to function on that level doesn’t come easily to everyone.
On the other hand, many of the ways we’ve learned to get by in life have been the same way those folks learned to use their web browser without knowing it was called a web browser: trial and error. And life is a hell of a lot harder to learn to use than a computer is, since in many instances we’ve had to learn to do exactly the opposite of what we were told to do. Most of life is learning to read between the lines, knowing which rules to follow and which ones we can break. All of our families had these rules, most of them weren’t written down, and fewer of them were ever talked about. We learned those rules the hard way, and in doing so we unconsciously formulated the lenses through which see the world. Learning to describe those lenses is key to being able to change things about our lives that we’re unhappy with, and a major part of describing thos lenses is creating our own personal vocabulary to name those lenses. I’d argue that the kind of introspection that has been necessary for healthy change in my life hasn’t been just about passive study of my incredibly unhealthy technique, but about actively creating a name, a container and a level of accountability for that technique.
I have a lot of voices in my head, a lot of incessant, negative, critical, voices in my head that question my choices and actions almost every step of my day. I am plagued by doubt, fear, scarcity and downright loathing. At some point I chose to consider these voices demons, negative influences that were outside of my control. But, as a magical acolyte in training, I also know that the most powerful magic in the human repertoire is naming. Over and over again in fairy lore, from Genesis to Rumplestilskin if you name something it is yours to control. So, in my own act of reclaiming and magical hommage, I opened a text file on my computer and saved it under the name ‘My Own Personal Goetia’, in reference to the Ars Goetia section of the Lesser Key of Solomon.
Every time a negative voice would pop up while I was working, I would open the document on my desktop and describe it, then from that description I would give it a name, and in doing so I named the demons that I was plagued by. Once I was able to name most of them, it was easy to quickly identify them when they appeared, and once I was able to identify them, it was easier to create counter-spells to negate their negative magic. The counter-spells in this case were often just recognition of their demonic influence, or something as simple as an idea that negated their negativity. One of my demons I called ‘Demon of Peak Efficiency’ and described it as ‘The low feeling that I could be working harder if I was really committed to X, X being whatever ideal is handy to make me feel like shit that day.’ To negate the idea of peak efficiency I slowly taught myself that creativity feels inefficient, that inefficiency is necessary to exploration, and that good exploration is inefficient, or rather that the most efficient creativity is through exploration, not through rigid self-criticism or procrastination (never mind that forcing me to deal with the demons is in and of itself highly inefficient; hypocrisy, deception and paradox are inherent in the demonic voice). Here is the complete list of My Own Personal Goetia:
Demon of Infinite Persecution – Always finding a way to moralize about how something I do is wrong, (file sharing, font trading, etc.) usually through fantasy scenarios of trials in courtrooms or being grilled by investigative reporters who I must assume hold all the moral right to do this. This demon also masquerades as an expert in X field, where X is an idea that I’m trying to explore or play with, to shame me for my ignorance and audacity at trying to think in this field when so many other real professionals already have.
Demon of Personal Scarcity – Turns all joys into burdens.
Demon of Inevitable Failure – All good things must end, so you cannot succeed, so why even try? Bonus tool: public failure.
Demon of Horrors Revisited – Apparently at random frightens me throughout the day with the prospect of running into someone I really fear, whom I feel I’ve done wrong to.
Demon of Random Catastrophe – A sudden fear that my wife is lying dead in bed with me and the panic of what I’d do without her. The sudden fear my son will run into the street and be hit by a car. An onset of irrational and sudden panic.
Demon of Peak Efficiency – The low feeling that I could be working harder if I was really committed to X, X being whatever ideal is handy to make me feel like shit that day.
Demon of Expectations Just Out of Reach – always leaves me feeling as though I’m not good enough.
Demon of Nothing to Say: The fear that what I’m writing has no point, purpose or lasting relevance, and is merely a clever observation I’m writing to show other people how smart I am.
Learning to deal with those voices (which I still wrestle with daily, by the way) was only possible once I was able to diagnose the fault in my browser, the flaw in my lense, to recognize that the voices themselves were not a part of the experience of living that I wanted anymore. Once I made that decision, a powerful magic in and of itself, and began to articulate just what it was that plagued me I learned effective ways to deal with the demons. But I can’t dissolve a block or heal a dysfunction until I can clearly articulate what it is; I can’t battle a demon until I know it’s name. Spending enough time with myself, either on paper or in meditation, to clearly hear what it is I want, and then articulate the things that are keeping me from achieving that desire are key to being able to change, to shift, and ultimately I hope, to heal.