Monday, 23 October 2006

Waxing lyrical

It was when a friend was talking to me in the school playground whilst waiting for our respective children and I started to imagine structuring her conversation in my head and creating suitable uls, spans and subsequent styles that I realized that I might have something of a problem. I knew I'd been running the risk of having a problem at some point as I had been told I would by a lecturer but I stupidly thought that such a problem wouldn't be a problem. It isn't really, in fact it's getting so that I don't see it as a problem at all, which is odd considering my usual anarchist approach to things. Though maybe I've been fooling myself into thinking I'm chaotic when really I'm so anal I whistle when I fart.

I remember arguing with a nursing lecturer that models were bad, that the effect of breaking down someone into a strict classification meant that something got lost; that the tools we use to assess people always left something out. Let me expand on this a little further.

Imagine being given a rock, just any old normal rock, say from your driveway or garden. Now you're being asked to describe that rock. Actually, might it not be better to have more than one person doing this exercise? Let's say there's a group of you, you and some friends well in your cups, and you're presented with a rock and told to talk about it - say a sentence at a time. So you say your sentence and pass it on and the next person says theirs before passing it on again... and again. You describe each bit of the rock; what a certain feature looks like to you like you're engaged in some sort of mad Rorschach test fuelled by cheap wine, where it's likely to have come from, what's happened to it over the millions of years of it's existence. How long could such an exercise go on? A bloody long time if there were more than one bottle of wine I'd guess. Would you have said everything you could say about it when you'd finally got bored silly of the whole exercise?

Pity then the poor student nurse who's presented by a nice Roper-Logan-Tierney based assessment tool and told to report back with a detailed assessment of a client after an interview. The client is obviously distressed, else why else would they be in hospital, so you're not seeing them all phlegmatic after waking up with a killer hangover or all happy after their first kiss with a new love. How then can you carry out an assessment? It just didn't ring true to me, it still doesn't to be fair, though I'm well aware that it might be the best of a bad lot it still isn't all that good. It does beg the question of what might be better though, doesn't it?

Anyway, what was I saying? Ahh yes, I was waxing lyrical about structure and how I find it anathema. Yet I remember talking about therapy and discovering research to suggest that it isn't the model that makes the difference but rather the therapist. Someone might practice Jungian or Freudian or whatever the particular brand of psychotherapy but if they're a knob then their success rate will be crap whatever they use. Whereas a good therapist might try shaking chicken bones onto a linen cloth and have as golden a success as if they spent six sessions hypnotizing someone and getting then to relive their most embarrassing memories. A tool or a model is merely a tool, a way of organising one's head into a place where they might do some good. At their most basic most - if not all - require an assessment, a plan, the implementation of the plan and an evaluation of the implementation. Pretty much common sense really I'd have thought but is it? Might it not be a hangover from our rationalist, scientific history stemming from the age of reason? One imagines that any other approach might be as successful as a pig with wings but to some extent we simply cannot imagine any other approach, I don't think so anyway.

But back to structure! XHTML is a structured language and has something of an interesting history. It is the marrying of XML (a language designed to describe data) and HTML (a language designed to display data). It's something of an incestuous marriage as well. Both XML and HTML are children of SGML. HTML is a broad though shallow implementation of it where as XML is a narrow but deep implementation and they've come together to form something which is better than the sum of its parts, at least it shows the promise to be.

Along with XHTML there is CSS. Each browser has it's own ideas about how a page should be drawn and it's own defaults, CSS allows for the designer to dictate how they want their work to be displayed. It isn't perfect though, as a language it isn't neat like XML is, in fact it's really rather messy and a bit of a dark art... but it might be argues that that is all to the good... too much structure can't be all good can it?