Wrong on the internet

14 April 2024

I recently read Tyson Yunkaporta's Right story, wrong story – his latest book after the one that grew a bunch of new synapses in my brain, Sand Talk.

It was a different experience. Perhaps it seemed less revelatory because I'd already read Sand Talk. Perhaps Yunkaporta just had less time to translate these ideas into something mainstream white Australians would understand. Perhaps the endless grind of trying to survive as an Indigenous person in a settler-colonial capitalist state made it harder to write. I'm not complaining – this is a great book and you should read it. But it's hard not to hope that when one reads an author's first book for a general audience and it utterly changed how one sees the world, that the next one will be just as exhilarating. It's hardly his fault that it didn't rewire my brain a second time.

The book covers a lot of ground, but the primary concept is that when telling a story (the best way to convey information) you can tell it in a way that is "right story", or you can tell it in a way that is "wrong story". The underlying message running through this is that how you convey information and tell stories is just as important as the "content" you are conveying.

In many ways this is not particularly New News. Any educator who has undergone any training in the last 30 years will know about "constructivism" and that the idea of education as simply passing knowledge to learners like one fills a jug with water is a completely inaccurate description of how learning actually works. But I think there are some additional, more subtle things here. It's not just that "active learning" is useful. How we explain things, who is acknowledged and who is silenced, what is noted and what is glossed over – all these things matter even if the subject matter seems very straightforward. Above all, Tyson Yunkaporta teaches me again and again the importance of Noticing. It's not a coincidence that I read Sand Talk in the second year of Melbourne's interminable Covid lockdowns, and that I started noticing things around my neighbourhood soon after – the flowering of different plant species, the changes in the bird populations from month to month, and even how vehicle traffic patterns had shifted. I'd never really paid much attention to any of that previously.

Speaking of noticing: something I noticed after finishing Right story, wrong story was that I suddenly had the urge to draw. It struck me because I had exactly the same compulsion after I read Sand Talk. Yunkaporta makes a carving in an object for each chapter in each of his books. This no doubt influenced me. But there must be more to it than that. Or rather, the way he writes, influenced by the way he carves patterns to record his ideas, influences me to think in patterns too. I don't really know what's going on here but it's definitely a thing. An important thing to understand here is that I am in no way "artistic". I don't habitually draw. Or at least I didn't until I started reading Yunkaporta's work. And I'm not sure that's really the point anyway. These are tools for working out what you're thinking, and recording it as a mnemonic device. I'm not sure about the mnemonic value of my drawings on digital paper, but I do find it helps me think things through and sometimes express things I can't quite articulate.

During lockdown I was surprised to find that the thing I most missed about the office was having a whiteboard to help me think things through. This is of course related, but I'm cautious about linking them too closely because ...well, I guess I don't like connecting what I think of as more wholesome brain-expanding processes with things that are just making me more effective as an Organisation Man. On this note, I recently discovered Abby Covert's Stuck? Diagrams help. via Tracy Forzaglia's MOD Librarian blog. I haven't read it yet but I'm thinking I'll probably splash out and get the ebook since diagramming things out seems to be so helpful for me.

Anyway, there's not some profound point to this post. I just decided to share some thoughts instead of being crippled by anxiety about whether my next blog post would be The Perfect Take. It never will be.