Ellen Says: “Keep Off The Grass”

I tested the OCR capabilities of the new HP scanner I got on clearance at Staples by scanning a favorite part of the book On Becoming An Artist by Ellen Langer:

Our world has been fashioned largely by people. People create the products we use, make the laws we follow, write the books we study in high school. Despite all of our efforts to perfect ourselves, the truth is that people have limited knowledge, mixed motivations, biases, and any number of other limitations. Many of us know this conceptually, even if we don’t think very often about how it affects our approach to the world. And so we experience our world, more often than not, as if it exists independent of human involvement. We take the things we use, the rules we follow, and the information we rely on as if they are true in some absolute sense, regardless of context or perspective. We have become oblivious to the part others play and have played in deciding much of what we take for granted. This is unfortunate, for by doing so, we give up new choices and lose the opportunity to take more control of our lives.

By creating an external world, then treating it as if it is independent of ourselves, we rob ourselves of our individuality and the opportunity to meet our needs. We can regain control, but only when we put people and context back into the equation. Compare a sign that warns you to “keep off the grass” with one that reads, “Ellen says keep off the grass.” The first demands obedience withour hesitation, whereas the second invites us to ask, “Who is Ellen and why does she want me to keep off the grass? Who does she think she is?” Too often, we follow rules as if they have an inherent logic that is reasonable across all contexts. We are taught to think inside the box. Then we are taught to think outside the box. What I want us to ask is, Who put the box there?

As far as I’m concerned, that summarizes about 90% of what is important in what is called “Postmodernism,” and it does it without anything written opaquely in French. Ellen Langer is a writer who writes in a seemingly unsophisticated style and ends up saying extremely important, deep things, which you’re liable to miss if you’re not careful. Highly recommended.

Oh, the scanner recognized everything perfectly except that it mistook a lowercase ‘L’ next to a period for an uppercase ‘L’. Nice.