digital experiences that people love
Jon Waring
11th Dec 2014

The moving finger writes…

John Simmons writes: Jon Waring asked me to write a blog. On what? I asked. It would be good if it related to ‘digital’. Fair enough, that’s very much part of what 3Sixty does.

But what does it mean? I suspect most people couldn’t give you a precise definition of ‘digital’ even though I reckon it’s the word of the 21st century so far.

I’m a writer, so I declare an interest. I tend to explore the meanings of words by going back to original roots. Without comparing myself to Shakespeare I too have “a little Latin and less Greek”. I’m amazed how, in this digital age, those ancient languages still provide me with guidance on the basics of grammar – and on writing with as much meaning as possible in as few words as possible. Take a look, for example, at the Roman historian Tacitus and marvel how it takes twice as many words in modern English to translate the writer’s original Latin words.

How do I know this? Well, I’ve read the original – and also I count. The word count on my computer is much used. But sometimes I count on my fingers – in workshops, when I ask people to write a haiku with its strict count of syllables per line, I enjoy watching people unconsciously counting with their fingers too. It’s a childish habit but using our fingers, our digits, was the way we humans got started on the road to mathematics that led to all things digital.

The reality is, we can’t know it all. So the only sensible answer is to respect the knowledge of others. I can’t do digital design, but I know people who can. I’m happy to trust them. Please do it for me.

John Simmons

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, my writer’s brain failed to join all the dots of understanding. This leaves me wishing I understood more mathematics, science, engineering. It’s a lack. I feel it in my life, just as I wish I could play several musical instruments and speak umpteen modern languages fluently.

The reality is, we can’t know it all. So the only sensible answer is to respect the knowledge of others. I can’t do digital design, but I know people who can. I’m happy to trust them. Please do it for me.

But when I think of my own ‘skill set’, inevitably digital in the sense of using my fingers, I’m in there with a skill that I genuinely believe is available to all of us. I write. So do you, so does anyone who taps at a keyboard to send an email. And I believe you could, indeed should, be better writers at work. You can’t really communicate effectively unless you use words well. That’s not a gift in the hands of the elite few – everyone can do it. So much of my working existence, and much of the pleasure I still gain from work, revolves around helping people to write more effectively and creatively.

I still do that by hand. Sometimes I write at the keyboard, generally I write first drafts using a pencil on paper. That seems to connect my thoughts more directly and effectively to the right words. That’s what I mean by digital communication but I’m always aware that words have multiple, and sometimes surprising, meanings to other people. And that’s what I really love.

John Simmons is a writer who has worked with 3Sixty on its language. His latest book is Room 121: a masterclass in business writing and communication, and he usually blogs at www.26fruits.co.uk/blog.