Virtually everyone writes down things to aid memory. Most of us would not pay a lot of attention to what we write with. By contrast, technical writers are highly professional authors employed to capture, distil and transmit practical and essential knowledge for other people to use. They can become quite passionate about the tools they use for writing documents and managing document content. Subscribers to the Techwr–l Internet forum for technical writers would know that frequent topics for some of the most passionate discussions relate to the relative merits of different software applications used in their work. The tools most commonly compared are Microsoft’s MS Word and Adobe’s FrameMaker that have some interesting fundamental differences in how they work and how they are used. Neutral bystanders call such “discussions” "application holy wars" because they often degenerate into irrational and personal attacks known as "flames". The List Manager periodically needs douse the flames, and in at least once case I recall, the name-calling led to litigation threats between the name callers. In fact, it was my own participation in one such application holy war that started my writing of the present work1
Holy wars over writing and document management tools are symptomatic of some extraordinarily fundamental technological changes in the way humans record, manage and retrieve knowledge. These changes are currently redefining the meaning of human cognition, our relationships to the world and to each other. By better understanding the underlying processes driving the changes, we may be able to better understand them and forecast their implications and impacts on our lives and on the organizations we belong to.
In hopes of assisting this understanding, and because I think the work explores fundamentally important issues in philosophy of knowledge and the nature of humanity, I will review some aspects of revolutions in tools that extend human cognition. My point of view is that of an evolutionary biologist with printer’s ink in his blood, who – as a technical writer – has had hands–on contact with almost all stages in the evolution of computer technology, and who is currently implementing state of the art knowledge management systems into a large defence contracting organization.
Because I believe the revolutions in our cognitive tools are changing the nature of humanity itself in a new Renaissance, I think it is appropriate to base the development of my ideas on one of the greatest cognitive artifacts evolving out of the ferment initiated by the last Renaissance - the fugue2.