A Tool for the Modern World

Sometimes I fall into the trap of thinking that working with a computer is the same as knowing how to read and write.

My life is a life of video conferences, keyboard shortcuts, navigating in three-dimensional worlds, email processing, and a dozen more tasks that require mastery of a handful of programs and applications.

It’s easy to think this is “baseline”. But it is not. At school we spend years learning to read and write, multiplication and division. But computer classes last two years at most, and teach little beyond the word processor.

The truth is that almost everyone knows how to search on Google, but not everyone knows how to do it efficiently. Not everyone knows how to use a browser for more than just reading a website.

And yet, these things are as important to the life of an adult in the modern world as being able to read and write.

Reading is a tool. Writing is a tool. Mathematics is a tool. And computer literacy is a tool. And it is as powerful as the other three.

Reading is a tool. Writing is a tool. Mathematics is a tool. And computer literacy is a tool. And it is as powerful as the other three.

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The Journey and The End

Most books have a moral (or suggested action) that can be explained in two pages or less.

So why write and read books?

Because applying a solution without understanding how it was generated is what robots do. And sometimes, that is enough; sometimes we just need to know what type of screw to use, what line of code to write, and what ingredient to choose.

But most of the time, no; reasoning is precious because it helps us make a decision under conditions that are similar but not exactly the same as those described in the original scenario. Knowing the path to a solution gives us the capacity to adapt it to new situations.

Even if reasoning is not necessary to assimilate the solution, the context can be. 

“The Alchemist,” by Paulo Coelho, is an excellent example. Everything the book has to say, is said on the last page. However, should we skip to the last page without reading the rest of the book, we will find it to be a commonplace truth; pocket wisdom.

Sometimes, you have to experience the challenges in order to integrate the solution.

Books give us the opportunity to experience them without actually going through them.

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Money and Perception

“One day, Yahya was out riding with the caliph Harun Al-Rashid. A man appeared before the caliph and said to him, “My mule is dead.”

Upon hearing this, the caliph commanded that the poor man be given five hundred dirhams. But Yahya signaled the caliph to dismount, and then took him aside.

“Father!” said Harun. “You made a sign to me about something I do not understand.” Yahya said in response, “A caliph should never lower himself to mention so small a sum of money, even as a gift. When it is necessary to give, it is better to give five thousand, or ten thousand.

Harun said to him, “So what should I have done in this situation?” Yahya said, “Simply offer to get him a new mule.””

— The Wisdom And Generosity Of Yahya Ibn Khalid (translation by Quintus Curtius)

The value of money is different for each of us. This is why a gift of money is often met with ingratitude: it is rare for our perception of value to match that of the others.

The monetary largesse of one man may resemble the avarice of another; and even if both parties are satisfied with the gift, the judgment of those who witness it is always up for grabs.

More sensible, then, is to find out what the other person desires, and, being within our possibility, to offer it.

No more, no less; the art of generosity is an art demanding of precision.

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