Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Today my friend Yuri pointed me to a fabulous post about colors (or "colours", I am, after all, in Canada...) -- any student of classification will at some point marvel over some of the many studies on the classification of color... but what is unique, I think, about the post that Yuri pointed me to is the attempt to figure how ordinary people (who are reading the particular blog) name a bunch of ordinary colors. The post is especially interested in the difference in the size of color vocabulary between guys and girls. Girls have a larger color vocabulary than guys. Great. Go figure. This just proves, once for all, that guys are color illiterate. Or, rather, it proves, once for all, that literacy is context-dependent and that any assumption about what it means to be literate needs to start from an understanding of what people want to accomplish... one can be illiterate [at something, by some standard (in this case the ability to name colors)] and still function very well in the world (as most guys do, also in situations where they have to name colors). The ability to name colors (or remember names of colors) is context-dependent; these colors have particular names for particular people, in particular contexts -- colors don't have names, colors are given names and the names are tied to particular activities and contexts... Which is, in fact, true for any category - it is socially constructed.

1 comment:

  1. Funny, I just blogged about this very thing, albeit from a different perspective.
    I don't think it is a matter of literacy but completely matter of social context. I think we all see the world differently and unfortunately we are often uncomfortably encultured to fit into society's tightly confined categorical standardizations. This isn't a "one-size fits all" world. I often think the difference in categories between men and women, in this case colours, is one of learned behavioural patterning and not biological fact (unless you're colourblind). I believe men have been unfairly "labelled" as being colour illiterate for centuries to the point where they now believe they are incapable of deciphering different hues. Men are often taught to use the left side of their brains, which is the logical, analytical, linear and rational side, and sadly are often told to ignore the right side of their brain which is the spacial, non-linear, creative, intuitive, side (of course there are always exceptions). The right side of the brain is the one that processes colour. Hence the reason most men don't care whether the grass is dark green, light green or brown. Grass is grass, why argue about colour. However, if a man's literacy of colours is as good as a woman's, they are often erroneously put into stereotypical categories of being to feminine and chastised.
    Guys are screwed either way (sorry fellas). So why should men, or anyone for that matter, be chastised for seeing the world in simple colours? They just see things and think differently because they were encultured that way. And just to add to the colour confusion...colour often depends on emotion as well. The same colour can appear differently if you are happy, blissful, sad, angry....since men for the most part have difficulty displaying emotions (emotions are often in the right brain haning out with the colours) colours remain the same and guys remain indifferent. You guys certainly have it tough! ;-) However, I do know that if men are given the freedom to fully express themselves without being labelled, tagged, or categorized they become much more colourful people. Which is also true for everyone else.

    Of course this also raises the question of how men and women differ in labelling, tagging and categorizing their worlds. Is there a difference? Fun stuff.

    I think the real tragedy is that we are usually forced into using one side of the brain over the other instead of integrating the two. We often have to choose between reason and intuition instead of trusting both. If information professionals (OK the world) started to incorporate their right brain in building information systems, the world would be a completely different place.

    (If you want to see the world through someone elses eyes check out this vision simulatorhttp://www.webexhibits.org/causesofcolor/2.html)