Strange thing, knowledge. It’s a paradox, but it’s a paradox in a good way. Unlike your average run-of-the-mill paradoxes such as why cars always cross at the exact point where a cyclist is riding, this one has a reason. A good one, too.
Y’see, knowledge isn’t about what you know, but about what you know to leave out. Ask any professional chef for their recipe for broccoli soup, and you’ll have proof. Your average amateur cook will use broccoli, potatoes, cream, maybe carrots, a few herbs and a whole host of other ingredients. A professional chef will use just two; water and broccoli. Maybe seasoning. That’s it.
And the soup will taste amazing.
Knowledge is just the same. The more you know, the less you need. A master writer can capture a scene in just a few lines where someone else would write reams, and still fail. The master Perl coder will produce tightly composed stanzas of code using 1/100th of the word count of a lesser programmer.
Call it Zen, enlightenment, or whatever. But it’s true.
When it comes to photography, I’m using a camera (for all it’s digital bells and whistles) operates exactly like my first SLR in the early eighties. I can use manual focusing, set the metering to center-weighting and adjust the f-stop and shutter speeds to taste. Sure, auto-everything is there when I’m feeling lazy, but my best shots come when I use less and let my knowledge simplify.
It’s the same with knowing when to fire the shutter. A cluttered shot is a wasted shot. Simplify. Knowing when to shoot is key, especially in today’s auto-fire age where it’s ok to fire 1,000 shots in the hopes of getting a single good keeper. Back in the good old days of film (remember that?), each shot was precious because there were only 36 on a roll, and that stuff cost money. Now it’s just free bits, and that’s made us sloppy. The thing is that one good shot out of a thousand is nothing more than a statistical blip; it might be good, but it’s nowhere close to a single carefully considered frame.
I could give countless examples from coding (Perl!) to writing (Occam’s Razor) to character generation (one great concept is better than a thousand abilities. Just compare Hulk to Superman for proof) to music (where knowing where to put the spaces between the notes is all important).
This came to mind because I’ve been fiddling with Tumblr (sadly apparently offline right now. Boo.) It’s Yet Another Web 2 Thing ™ which is designed to do one thing, well. Like del.icio.us, there’s a draggable toolbar thingy which you click, and it’ll automatically format a blogpost in your tumblr site based on the webpage/image/whatever you’re looking at. It’s this context sensitivity which makes it so clever – link a pic from Flickr and it’s there, a YouTube vid, and it’s inline. Highlight some text, and it’s formatted as a quote. The whole thing is very, very Lazy Web. Single click blogging, and perfect it your the kind of blogger who likes to use their blog as a Directory of wonderful things rather than as a place to post your own opinions, etc. Which you can do too.
I like Tumblr because it combines the best of blogging, rss and bookmarking in one very simple whole. They’ve used the knowledge, brilliantly.
And it’s all about knowing what to leave out.