Oh, Carp!

The annual report is back from the printer. The website is finally live. It was just as you expected. The subtle embossing. The fantastic spot colour overlay. The cool javascript transitions. That fantastic photograph telling the right story. Those tough chewy prose taking the reader to the mountain top of crosshead stainless steel screws.

You reverently show your handiwork to your partner, your spouse, the woman in the cubicle next to you who often smells of garlic and calls her boyfriend every afternoon. Here, share my joy.

Instead of cooes of approbation you get a question. “Is the CEO’s name really spelled with a Y?” “I thought we spent $1,000,000,234 not $1,000,243?” “What happened to the sidebar disclaimer on the article about female circumcision?”

How does this happen, how? How is it possible that so much hard work and scrutiny could end in a piece of beautiful communication being hurriedly bundled off the information rack, out of the clients hands with desperate calls to the printer, the web editor, etc.?

I am mildly dyslexic. I can look at piece of communication I am labouring on and not see the correction I was supposed to make for the second time. The mis-spelled word. The column of text set just marginally to the left of where any self-respecting content should be. It is not that I don’t care, I do. What I see is conditioned by what I want to see. I am not alone.

Like a hunter tracking in the woods my brain, like your brain, is continually picking up information fragments and completing the story. The hunter/gatherer transforms three flecks of brown in a thicket of branches into a deer. The dents in the mud beside a watering hole tell us where the wildebeest went or whether it was even there at all. We are born cognitive completists. This makes us victims of card sharks and typos.

There are people who have better ocular pitch. People who almost always only see what is there. People who can spot a typo across the room. Hand them a copy of the Gettysburg Address and the first thing they notice is not a ringing affirmation of the equality of all human beings but a missing t in the fifth sentence. They have a knack for spotting that obvious mistake loitering like a dog turd in the bricolage of your artistic creation. I say almost because I have never met anyone who is perfect. The need to see what ought to be there is too strong even for the most literal of readers. We are all just too hard-wired for hunting and gathering information, completing the story. This is why you can get away with one photographer or one designer, but one proof reader is never enough.

These days fewer and fewer people see a piece before it goes live. Communication departments, who should know better, have lighten their troika by throwing the proof readers and copy editors to the wolves. There are fewer people in the chain of production. Platemakers and type setters no longer augment the repetitive nature of their job by spotting mistakes. They are drawing their pensions or selling insurance now. The rise of online content management systems means we can fire off our finely honed epistle with the click of a button, with no English major justifying the cost of their education by paying it off as a web developer standing in the breach.

It is in the interest of all content creators or shapers to find as many natural linguistic nit-pickers as they reasonably can and, if you can’t pay, then cultivate them with whatever you have, even if it is only bolstering their smug sense of superiority. Their job is to make us feel like a fools so that we don’t look like idiots.