I survived the G20 riots. They happened near my former workplace in downtown Toronto; fortunately, our office had recently moved to the slightly more peaceful city of Markham. No one was surprised by the violence; it was all foreseen, based on the history of previous summits. Remember the “Battle in Seattle” in 1999? It’ll be difficult to name this current event, as there are few words that rhyme nicely with Toronto. Perhaps “The Scenario in Ontario”.
What exactly did the G20 summit produce? A non-binding document, in which, among other things, the various leaders pledge to reduce their outrageous spending. What happens to leaders who don’t meet their deficit reduction targets? Well, the other leaders might stare really, really hard at them, call them names, and maybe even start turning the lights on and off. Oh boy – that’ll scare them into fiscal responsibility.
Time for some post-mortem documentation analysis. The security costs alone for the summit were over a billion dollars. There are 10,500 words in the released communiqué. That works out to over $95,000 per word. However, the total cost is even higher when you factor:
- transportation, food and housing for all 10,000 delegates
- construction of all the venues, including the “fake lake”
- the funky G20 logos and marketing
- three slightly over-cooked police cars
- damages to stores
- lost business
- court costs for the anarchists
When all these are added in, the cost per word easily exceeds $100,000, a handsome rate for any writer.
Here’s a few other random thoughts from this event:
Don’t want to be arrested? Read the manual!
Over 900 people were arrested during the summit – a new Toronto record – woo-hoo! Now, some of those arrested and detained were admittedly innocent; passers-by, onlookers and journalists. To avoid future errors, I recommend a Summit Safety Manual be issued to all residents of the next city fortunate enough to host the next G20 summit.
This manual will contain only one procedure:
Not Getting ArrestedIf you do not wish to be unavoidably detained and arrested, and held for an unlimited number of hours without access to food, water and washroom facilities, please complete the following task:
- Stay far away.
Sign, Sign, Everywhere A Sign
I enjoy reading the communication (a.k.a. signs) displayed by the protesters with such brilliant and pithy statements as:
- Ban the G20!
- Capitalism sucks!
- Bury the bankers!
- Nature doesn’t do bailouts!
The problem is that unlike a well-written document, the signs don’t tell the reader what to do. I therefore plan to show up at the next protest with the following sign:
- Ensure your sign includes a clear, specific action for the reader!
Even if the signs had been clearer, as documents they are useless. The world leaders are the end users for these signs. Has there ever been an instance where these leaders have said: “Gee, this sign says ‘Ban the G20’. I guess we’d better cancel the meeting.” Clearly, the sign-writers have yet to learn the prime directive of technical communication: Know your audience.
A Paradox for Anarchists – Let’s Get Organized!
To call the anarchists who destroyed property idiots would be an insult to idiots everywhere. These thugs have the intelligence of blank hard drive. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of revolution now and then; many great nation-states were born from revolution. The difference, of course, is that these historical revolutionaries stood for something, whereas the anarchists stand for nothing, except, of course, more anarchy.
Technical communication is undergoing a revolution from:
- traditional WYISWYG tools where the content and the design of information is done simultaneously, and the documents are typically stored locally and organized into chapters and books
- server-based XML tools where the author works only with segments of pure text (no formatting), which are classified based on their type and which are stored on a central server that many authors can access
This is a colossal change; I am therefore launching a new movement named after the infamous Black Bloc G20 anarchists – it will be called The Text Bloc.
Join us as we smash old (computer) windows and destroy the old outdated documentation ways!
Chant with me now the following statements:
- Death to WYISWYG! (Or at least partial harm to it!)
- Paper-based systems don’t do bailouts (and they don’t do many other things either!)
- Hey Mr. C.E.O. – can you spell X.M.L?!
- Information wants to be free! (But avoid anthropomorphization!)