I collaborate on content with a lot of different people. As a software developer, almost all of my work is done in git and GitHub. As a professor working at a large institution, most of it is done in Microsoft Office, email, or increasingly, in Teams. Lately I've been thinking about how these various tools come to shape our sense of what content is, and define our relationship to it, and eventually, to one another.
When we use the word "content," we do so in a number of competing grammatical ways:
- She was content with the outcome. Content is a state of satisfaction, of being at peace, a happiness and willingness to accept something for what it is. Tied up in this is also a sense of acceptance, and perhaps an understanding that a deeper longing will not be met. Content is adequate.
- He poured out the bottle's contents. Content is what is found within, it is everything included, the full amount of something, what is available. To think of content as being too little or too much misses what it actually is. Content is what is there, not what you do or think of it.
The book's table of contents tells me what is to be found within its pages, but my goals as a reader will ultimately define how contented I am with the its coverage of some topic.
As a collaborator using git, I am never done creating content. I write in any number of styles, languages, and software applications, and in every case I am freed from the burden of perfection. I am able to be human, always aware of my existence within in time, that this will not be my last chance to improve things. While my many failings are always with me, accruing within .git/, they are both on display for all who would judge me, but also hidden in the constant flow of error and eradication of mistakes by new commits.
When I'm in git, content is what is found within: this repository, this release, this branch, this commit, this moment. To experience content this way is to examine the sea, and look upon a wave, knowing that another follows.
As a collaborator using office software, I am terrified of my mistakes. I read, re-read, and read again, hoping to uncover the typo, incorrect figure, or failed copy/paste that will undo my assignment, exam, grant application, or email. I am forever cursed to be human, always aware that my imperfections cannot be separated from my good intentions. My results are judged on the basis of the final document I must eventually submit. Whether it is satisfactory or not remains to be seen, for it must be judged, accept or rejected, and not by me.
When I'm in office, content is how what I've made is received: the satisfaction of the reader, and their acceptance of what I've produced, the liklihood of my work being enough. To experience content this way is to come face-to-face with something washed-up on the shore.
Moving between these two worlds is jarring. I am the same person in both, but how my errors are viewed is very different. In one, it is an expected part of the process of improvement; in the other, it is a stumbling block, a cause for concern, and a failure.
It won't surprise you to hear that my heart belongs to git. I am now so used to embracing my mistakes, iterating and improving my work, and adopting a continuous-quality process, that to have to switch to the more common office-style undoes me. It's a fascinating experience to witness my colleagues different approaches to me and my work, depending on which style they prefer.
I only know how to correct, not write correctly, and git, for all its flaws, fits me nicely, for all of mine.