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Oct 31, 2006: Old belongs

On Adam Greenfield's recent criticisms of the IA community...

I admire Adam, not only for his broad and obvious intellect, but for the almost tender sincerity he displays while admonishing the field of IA for its lack of intellectual curiosity. Many of his criticisms are spot on. He notes that we've collectively constructed "an environment in which pointed criticism is rarely heard or countenanced". We definitely can be too nice, although let's face it: we're typically not the kind of people who like to make a fuss. And in his understandable impatience, Adam is right to urge us to go further in how we define our problem space, pushing beyond the obvious challenges of intranets, enterprise settings, and so on.

Really, as I read his posting, I find it hard to disagree with much of what Adam has to offer. But when I think about how new fields naturally evolve, much of his thesis falls apart. He's making a common mistake, really: he's forgetting history and his role in it.

By history, I mean the rapid evolution of IA, over the past ten or fifteen years, from a nebulous and risky area of practice that cried out for defining concepts and vocabulary, to a somewhat mature and increasingly commoditized profession that's crying out for more practitioners.

By his role in it, I mean that Adam was a fairly early player in the IA arena, meaning he is very different from the majority of people entering the field today. Those who are drawn to unknowns can be characterized as opportunistic (I mean that in a nice way), creative people drawn to risks and gaps in need of filling.

Since Adam got involved in the field, it grew, matured; new information architects are excited less by the novelty and more by the work, as mundane is it may seem at times to us old farts. So it's not surprising that newer information architects seek a welcoming environment: they need safety, security, and support as they deal with many great unknowns.

Same is true for those writing for the field, like the Boxes & Arrows author Adam mentions. If the author did indeed make the mistake of reinventing the wheel, it's no crime, just an opportunity to connect and possibly educate. That's the beauty of a healthy, mature profession: seniors and novices co-exist, exchange information, learn from each other, and repeat the cycle again and again, making us collectively a smarter community.

So Adam, please don't leave the us; just realize that you're now one of those seniors, entitled to grouse and complain about those danged kids from time to time, as old farts do. But you'll do a disservice to the profession by packing up and moving. You're needed, so stay put—at least until the next gap needs to be filled.

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Comment: Brenda (Oct 31, 2006)

Adam Greenfield was an IA? huh. who knew.

Comment: AG (Nov 1, 2006)

; . )

Thanks for having taken the time and energy to recuperate my rant, Lou. I'm sure it will be more constructive in your framing of it.

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