As you may know, Docaholics Anonymous is a world-wide support group that gives strength and comfort to those afflicted with docaholism, now medically recognized as a disease. Docaholism is the persistent addiction to the creation and maintenance of all forms of documentation. There is no known cure, other than professional counseling and the work of support groups like Docaholics Anonymous.
A DA History
DA has an interesting history. It was founded almost 50 years ago by two technical writers in Nebraska: Fred Bookend and Jack Riter. Fred had been a document addict for about 12 years. He was working up to 100 hours a week, and practically died from exhaustion. He would often change a single draft up to 60 times, driving his employer to distraction, resulting in constant reprimands and firings.
In 1956, Fred met Jack through the newly formed STC. Jack was also a docaholic, although not as severe as Fred. (Jack would only go through twenty review cycles compared to Fred’s sixty.) The two men recognized that simply by talking about their addiction, it greatly alleviated their pain. They founded Docaholics Anonymous in 1958, and chapters quickly spread throughout the United States, then Canada, and finally the world.
Most of you may never have had the pleasure of experiencing a DA meeting. In a “Writer’s World” exclusive, I have obtained a transcript of a recent chapter gathering. Because note-taking is not allowed at meetings (since it is a form of documentation), this transcript was taken secretly. Therefore, please keep this information to yourselves, lest I end up on the DA black list.
DA Support Group – North Toronto Chapter – Meeting Transcript
Nov 10, 2004 – 8:06 PM – Undocumented location
Cornelius (chapter leader): Good evening everyone!
Group: Good evening Cornelius!
Cornelius: I’d like to welcome everyone to tonight’s meeting. Let’s begin by going around the table. Does anyone have anything they’d like to share? Remember to state your first name, the nature of your addiction, and, if you can, how you’ve been working to overcome it.
Chloe: I’d like to go first, if I may.
Cornelius: Sure Chloe, go ahead.
Chloe: Hi. My name’s Chloe and I’m a docaholic.
Group: Hi Chloe!
Chloe: I’ve been a docaholic for about six years now. My addiction has manifested itself in such as actions in marking up the magazines in my doctor’s office, always carrying at least seventeen types of pens in my purse, and sleeping with a dictionary under my pillow, just in case I need to look something up.
I’ve had a pretty good week. The other day at work, a co-worker had a written post-it note on his desk, with lots of typos, but I placed it out of my “fear zone” and was able to let it go.
Cornelius: That’s awesome Chloe! Thanks for sharing. Anyone else?
Rupert: I’ll go.
Cornelius: Sure – go ahead, Rupert.
Rupert: Hi. I’m Rupert, and I’m a docaholic.
Group: Hi Rupert!
Rupert: I’m coming up to my tenth year in group. (applause) My addiction has taken the form of mild to sever heart palpitations when I see a billboard that is poorly designed and barely legible – also, I like to label all the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom shelves with the items that they hold. At work, I’m down to having only 15 review cycles in my drafts.
Cornelius: Great progress, Rupert! Keep it up. Soon you’ll be down to ten cycles, then five and, if you “will” it hard enough, three.
Rupert: Well, to be honest, I don’t know if I go less than seven cycles. That would just be too painful.
Cornelius: I feel your pain because I’ve been there. I too, thought that three review cycles was impossible, but by sharing my pain, I’ve accepted this number, and you can too.
Marla: But maybe sometimes a document does need more than three reviews?
Cornelius: Thanks for your honest communication, Marla. Does anyone in the group want to non-judgmentally say what Marla is practicing?
Cornelius: That’s right. We love you Marla and we support you, and that’s why we have to be honest with you, even if the truth is painful. Does anybody else want to share some facts they had to struggle with to accept?
Tyler: People don’t mean to write poorly, they’re just born that way.
Jason: It’s OK if an index is missing an entry or two.
(more group applause)
Marla: Developers are not evil people just because they write poorly. They come from another world and don’t know the customs of our planet.
(still more group applause)
Cornelius: Good, that’s good sharing. Now I myself will share. Last week, I was working on a document that had fifteen screenshots. The problem is, they were all outdated and there wasn’t time to update them. So do you know what I did?
Marla: Don’t tell me that you – I can’t say it.
Cornelius: Then I’ll say it – I deleted them.
[Group gasps at the sheer horror of it all.]
Tyler: I think I’m going to be sick – how you could just, you know, d-d-d-delete them?
Cornelius: It wasn’t that hard – once you’ve faced your fear, you can defeat it. You have to own your documents, or they will end up owning you. You have to choose whether the delete key will be your enemy, or your friend. Besides, the screenshots were redundant to the text anyway.
Tyler: Oh, thank god..
Cornelius: OK – it’s time to move on to the “aversion therapy” session in our meeting. For you newcomers, this is where we all recite, in unison, portions of various incomprehensible documentation. The goal is that by facing “the worst”, we can be “the best” at fighting our addiction.
Tyler: Yech, I really hate this part of the program.
Cornelius: Me too, but we have to do it to reach our self-actualization levels. Remember people – that which does not kill us makes us stronger. Now if you turn to page 6 in your DA booklets, to the group recitation section, let’s read together:
Group (in unison):
To open the file, select to perform the clicking operation on the Open button. The file is now open and you can read it if that is your desire.
Error: The program has performed an unknown error. Please refer to this error message for details. This is the end of the message.
Warning! Failure to follow these assembly instructions may result in a permanent death. You may also be injured, too. If you are dead, you may not be able to use this product.
Cornelius: OK. Let’s move on to my favourite section, “corporate-speak” …page 12, section 2…
Group (somewhat in unison):
We are a cutting edge and bleeding edge team that strives to hyper-satisfy our clients by actualizing winning results.
We have the concepts that form the ideas which make the up heuristic viewpoint that comprises a systematized strategy for our forward-looking vision.
Despite the layoffs, the company is not “going bankrupt”. We are in a transitional phase as we re-engineer our operations to face these challenges, and rework our operational constructs in a deprecated, time-phased manner.
Cornelius: Good. And if you care what any of that meant, you’re still part of the problem and not part of the solution. And Marla, please put the pen down – you know the rules – no documentation allowed at group meetings.
Marla: Sorry – I was just writing down one sentence.
Cornelius: All docaholism starts with one sentence, with one word, with one letter. Then it grows like a virus into a paragraph, a page, a chapter and a manual. Before you know it, your labeling all the food in your fridge and putting name tags on your children. You can’t be a little bit pregnant, Marla. I know, because I’ve been very pregnant.
Alright, let’s finish tonight with the recitation of the twelve steps:
Group (in unison):
- We admitted we were powerless over documentation – that our documents had become unmanageable.
- We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore our documents to sanity.
- We made a decision to turn our documents to the care of a higher power as we understood him.
- We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of our documents, except for the appendices, which nobody reads anyway.
- We admitted to our higher power, to ourselves and our reviewers the exact nature of our documents, including typos, poor grammar and fuzzy screenshots.
- We were entirely ready to have our higher power remove all these defects from our documents – at least the fuzzy screenshots.
- See step 6.
- We made a list of all the reviewers we had annoyed and became willing to make amends to them all.
- We made direct amends to such people except when to do so would lead to really awful manuals.
- We continued to take personal inventory of our documents, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it, without using a spell-checker.
- We sorted through, prayed, meditated, and proofread, to improve our conscious contact with our higher power, as we understand him, praying only for knowledge of his will for use and the power to carry that out. And we learn to accept really long, rambling sentences like that last one.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of this step, we tried to carry this message to those that still suffer. And we pledged to practice these principles in all our documents. Then we had lunch.
Cornelius: Thanks, well done. We’ll see you next week. Let’s close with the serenity prayer:
God grant me the serenity to accept the documents I cannot change;
The courage to change the documents I can;
and wisdom to be able to effectively document the difference.