I’ve seen myself as a visual person for a long time, but I think I never realized how much this defines me, until now.
It’s almost impossible for me to memorize things just by hearing them. Names, numbers, dates, directions – my mind disposes of them in minutes. But when I read something, when I look at a picture, when I see a map, then I’ll remember it because I understand it. (I’m not talking about photographic memory here; I don’t have that. I’m just much better digesting visually than orally.)
When everybody in my age group started using cell phones, I didn’t have one. I wasn’t interested in talking remotely to other people. Instead, I jumped on the train of modern smartphones at the first station: The week after the original iPhone was available in Germany, I got one. It’s become an extension of my world. Looking at that tiny screen has become an addiction. But I avoid using it as a phone; it’s muted.
I literally cannot understand when somebody is telling me how late it is, or gives me directions to an unknown place. But I can grasp diagrams, tables, structured texts, interfaces, signs, and images instantly. I’m not deaf; I love music, singing, the sounds of nature. But my ears seem to be connected only to my emotions, and not to my brain.
On the other hand, the connection between my eyes and my brain seems to be a fiber optics cable. I live inside my eyes. My job (which is also my hobby) is looking at code, interfaces, diagrams, articles, specifications, emails, search results, icons, wireframes, server logs. Being able to live in a digitized world is a heavenly gift for me. My eyes hunger for text since I learned to read; now I know I can dive into anything I want, whenever I want. I just have to put it on a screen.
When I watch a good movie for the first time, I often don’t get the story. I can’t remember the names of the characters. But I see colors, effects, materials, lights, shadows, signs in the background, textures, dust, skin, hair, tiny little details. I watch it with my eyes and my mind fully focussed on the screen, while the music and voices can stream directly to my heart. I can cry on a well-done emotional scene, but I never look away.
People get frustrated with me for not listening to them, not understanding them, or for having to tell me everything twice. I get frustrated at people for not seeing icons on their screen, not paying attention to spelling or typography, using gadgets that I find ugly, or using buggy syntax highlighting.
I spent years working on a syntax highlighter library. I’m not a designer, but I feel that getting the details of the presentation of source code right is essential. I’m still obsessed with it; I can dream in highlighted code (mostly Ruby) when I close my eyes.
It’s not about aesthetics. I don’t have good visual taste. It is about information. Truth. Seamlessness. Clarity. To me, the only way to make something clear is to visualize it, with text and code and pictures. This preference (or disability) has pushed me into a specific direction since school. It defines what I’m good at and what gives me trouble. It summarizes my strengths and weaknesses as a programmer.
I feel a bit like a penguin: Hearing is waddling on ice. Seeing is swimming in the ocean.