Plain Text and the Power User Fallacy


Plain text has, for whatever reasons, the reputation of being something for the techie. Many people see plain text as something only someone with a lot of computer chops can get the most out of (whatever that means).

That’s a notion that I’ve long disagreed with.

I believe that anyone can use plain text to work and to stay organized. I hope that this site helps prove that point.

But among some people who live and work in plain text, there seems to be a notion that everyone needs to use complex, high-powered tools to get things done. That you’re not doing it right unless you’re using the Vim editor or Emacs with org-mode. That if Pandoc isn’t part of your toolkit you shouldn’t be working in plain text. That unless you’re doing and using exactly what they are, you’re not using plain text to its full potential.

That falls under the umbrella of what I call the power user fallacy. The belief that what you do and what you use is what everyone should do and use.

It doesn’t work that way.

The power user fallacy doesn’t take into account that we’re all different. That what we need to do and the way in which we do if varies from person to person. That what’s a good fit for one person might not be a good fit for someone else.

I ran into a great example of this with a comment on an article at Opensource.com:

If your wife is a writer, she should know Latex. Latex documents can be seamlessly tracked by Git It’s worthy

Here’s one of my replies to that comment:

… major non-technical publishers are very wedded to proprietary workflows that start with Word and end with something like InDesign or Quark or something else. For many writers, that’s fine. They aren’t techies, aren’t interested in embracing their inner geeks, and are happy to continue with word processors.

The original comment shows either a lack of understanding of how many professional writers work, or just someone caught up in their own bubble. I’m thinking it’s a mix of both.

You can’t paint a solution with one brush, or with one kind or colour of paint.

The best way to avoid falling into the trap of the power user fallacy is to remember that everyone’s needs are different — slightly different, or very different. Remember that because someone uses plain text doesn’t mean they’re technically inclined or are interested in embracing their inner geek.

Before suggesting a tool or technique that’s right for you, ask about the other person’s needs. Ask about what they’re comfortable with, and what they want to do.

We’re all on this plain text journey together. We all have different levels we work at. We all have different routes to take to the end of that journey. Our destinations are the same, regardless of what we need to do and what tools we use.