December 18, 2020•752 words
Getting started learning something completely new is difficult, with few exceptions. It's hard to dedicate yourself to a new activity or subject. It's hard to find the time, it's hard to find the motivation to do something that you're not very good at, but most of all, it's hard to know what you need to know and where you need to look to learn it.
I'm calling that last one "the learning paradox" since (1) it is sort-of paradoxical and (2) it makes for a good title. It is a serious problem though; when you're not familiar with a subject and don't have someone to introduce you to it, you have no idea where to start. That's where the paradox is: you want to learn something, but don't know what to learn to learn that thing. Let me give an example.
I first heard about open-source software and self-hosting (and the various other concepts that go along with those two things) from a friend in eighth grade. I wanted to learn more about it, so I looked up self-hosting. I didn't know where to go for information, but I'd spent a lot of time on Wikipedia and I knew it to be a very useful resources, so I tried to read the article. It makes plenty of sense to me now - I'm doing it on multiple servers - but at the time it was to me, to put it bluntly, useless jargon.
Self-hosting in the context of website management and online publishing is used to describe the practice of running and maintaining a website using a private web server.
What the hell is a private web server? Okay, why don't I go find that out. Let's look at the article for web server.
A web server is server software, or hardware dedicated to running this software, that can satisfy client requests on the World Wide Web. A web server can, in general, contain one or more websites. A web server processes incoming network requests over HTTP and several other related protocols.
I went and looked at other sources. Most of it was shit about self-hosting a wordpress site - not my goal (though if you fast forward to now, that's one of the things I'm doing) - and the beginner tutorials were unsatisfactory. I then went to the person that introduced it to me and asked them about it, and ended up walking for an hour to lunch while his attempted explanations flew over my head like F-22s.
That is the learning paradox, well summed up. I didn't know where to look for a beginner's guide; search engines didn't give me what I needed. There was all this prerequisite knowledge on my usual sources, and when I went to go and try and understand that prerequisite knowledge, what did I find? Ah yes, more prerequisite knowledge. Terms I didn't understand were explained in terms I didn't understand, keeping me locked in this cycle until my eventual breakthrough. I ended up having to first learn the parts of a computer, then get something of a grasp on how web pages work and a vague understanding of the various parts of the internet protocol suite, then figure out what the hell a server is and what it does, and then I ended up having an epiphany and realizing that all these concepts (save for the internet protocols) were simple and that, if there had been an adult to explain it to me simply, I could have learned all these concepts in a few hours rather than a few weeks or even months. Admittedly, self-hosting wasn't the easiest thing to start learning nearly from scratch. However, once again, I didn't know what I didn't know and had no way of discerning easy subjects from hard ones at the time.
The Learning Paradox is not perfectly paradoxical, as there are some solutions. Most of the ones that I can think of involve posting on forums and asking people, but that can only get you so far. To be honest, it's not actually that much of an issue, since the cycle of not understanding things will eventually get broken. It will often take a while, and you need to be dedicated to it, but if you just learn things eventually you'll get it. Sounds simple, right?
I'm not trying to solve this problem at this current moment. I'm just trying to write it down, and I think this is good enough for now.