Engineers and programmers prefer the plain text format as it is ubiquitous and universal.
In the past decades, as digital services become commodities, we have faced a variety of choices. The reality is too much to choose one with fear of compatibility and sustainability.
Once upon a time, I saved my digital documents on a floppy disk to store the records created by an electric typewriter or simple word processor. I don’t think we have any way to read and restore the decade-old information in it. It sounds even more archeological.
Since the dawn of the Microsoft era, I have mainly used Microsoft Word for my writing. I was luckier in using this word processing application for my thesis and dissertation many years ago compared to the generation of our parents and grandparents who had no choice but either manual or electric typewriters if not handwriting.
While enjoying the convenience of the first phase of digital transformation decades ago, ironically, we have also faced some counter effects. That is the so-called dilemma of digital information; moreover, the fear of compatibility and sustainability.
As I faced in the obsolete floppy disks, a similar situation has become more critical. We have even faced compatibility issues among the old and new versions of Microsoft Word. The same problem is everywhere in various old and new digital services and business models.
Many IT companies introduce diverse services and new technologies; they look so excellent and helpful at first. But the reality is that we fall into these two situations:
- Vendor lock-in
- Technology lock-in
The documents I created in Microsoft Word demand that I keep using the same application on the same platform. In the same way, Apple leads us to its product and service ecosystem. So does Google. While it looks more prominent in these Big Tech firms, in principle, any IT vendors have such characteristics in one or another.
That is why engineers and programmers love the plain text format. It is free from all these lock-in demands. As long as we save our documents in simple text files, we can keep them almost semi-permanently.
I almost agree with this so-called plain text manifesto. I am also fond of using various text editors for my writing. But then, there is also some concern in the market of text editors and text-based applications. In principle, these vendors can’t be free from a sort of lock-in situation, either. There are too many choices and noises.
Tools are tools. They should act like air or water to support our knowledge activities. But the problem is that we spend too much energy evaluating the overwhelming variety of choices. Such fetish, lifehack discussions over which should be the best note-taking apps, and so on are everywhere in the digital SNS platforms. We are busy talking about tools themselves.
While I am fond of the plain text movement, it is similar to our lifestyles per se, such as minimalism, simple life, slow life, and the like. People are supposed to be minimal, simple, and slow. Ironically, however, these advocates (I’m also guilty) are often too busy and opinionated as if they want to maximize their complicated, faster lifestyles.
In the market of self-help and success philosophy, we notice various lock-in efforts. Some gurus insist their teachings are so unique and precious. Some teachers request us to be the members and subscribers. People are busy talking about which theories can be more effective than others. Your church is not compatible with their churches, your methods are new and powerful, or theirs are obsolete, harmful, etc. Various influencers are talking about their superiority.
In the market of fitness as well, we notice the same lock-in efforts. Some say one cardiovascular approach is superior to the others, from slow jogging to HIIT to CrossFit, etc. Still, some say the exercise with this or that special equipment is revolutionary. Others say you need to purchase this or that to achieve this or that.
These are all the efforts of lock-in. Then, we are supposed to escape from all these ad bombardments and figuratively seek a plain text approach. But again, we face another set of lock-in situations even in such a simple text approach domain. There are tons of meditation practices that try to lock you in, even asking you to subscribe to the service and become a member of the organization. Some fitness gurus would say: Why don’t you just run and lift weights? But then, there would be tons of opinions behind simply running and lifting weights alone.
Well, that is the way we live in this world. We can share the same sentiment that even Lao Tzu felt thousands of years ago.
Let every state be simple like a small village with few people. There may be tools to speed things up ten or a hundred times yet no one will care to use them. There may be boats and carriages yet they will remain without riders. There may be armor and weaponry yet they will sit collecting dust.Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
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