Monthly Archives: December 2004

Bateson rediscovered

I seem forever to be picking up books from my own past, and discovering in their pages the reasons I’ve harbored them for so many years. Often I’m sure I’ve never read the gems that I discover, but it may be that I just didn’t have the wit to understand what I was reading the first time around, and that I now have the context to appreciate significances that escaped the younger reader. Case in point today: Gregory Bateson’s Naven has been with me for 35 years or so (the price of the Stanford paperback was $2.95), and I just happened to open it today and find this, contrasting the ‘scientific’ and ‘artistic’ modes of exposition:

The artist is content to describe culture in such a manner that many of its premises and the inter-relations of its parts are implicit in his composition. He can leave a great many of the most fundamental aspects of culture to be picked up, not from his actual words, but from his emphasis. He can choose words whose very sound is more significant than their dictionary meaning and he can so group and stress them that the reader almost unconsciously receives information which is not explicit in the sentences and which the artist would find it hard –almost impossible– to express in analytic terms. (pg. 1)

Since …it is impossible to present the whole of a culture simultaneously in a single flash, I must begin at some arbitrarily chosen point in the analysis; and since words must necessarily be arranged in lines, I must present the culture, which like other cultures is really an elaborate reticulum of interlocking cause and effect, not with a network of words but with words in linear series. The order in which such a description is arranged is necessarily arbitrary and artificial… (pg. 3)

A bit of History, and more Design Engaged

Some documents are of enormous historical interest, and ought to be more retrievable and more widely known. Dave Winer’s ‘Payloads for RSS’ (11 Jan 2001) lays out the potential of enclosures and multimedia files. Adam Curry pointed to the post in today’s blog entry… and it’s all right there: “you subscribe to channels instead of clicking-and-waiting… it’s a simple matter to teach RSS about multimedia payloads…”

Some more extracts from Design Engaged, to give a sense of its delights:

from Fabio Sergio’s freegorifero:

How much structure is really needed to create engagement?
…sites like Flickr and, where user-contributed bit-based constructs are puppeted to dance to the rhythm of hard-bopping metadata.

Because Flickr is not a photo-sharing product, and not even a photo-sharing tool.
It’s a bit-sharing platform [see this example, viewed as a slide show, to get the idea…]
…Flickr and are successful examples of platforms with “just enough” structure to enable growth, platforms that let the emergent behaviors of their users slowly give them peculiar shapes..

from Mike Kuniavsky’s Orange Cone:

Life is incredibly complex, and now it’s not just the scientists at the Santa Fe Institute and Wall Street mathematicians who know it. Many people see it and feel it. But most don’t know what to do about it. We can see patterns of compensation mechanisms appear. Nihilism, irony, fundamentalism and nostalgia are all ways to simplify the world. We are at the end of the prescriptive rationalist vision of the world and we’re waiting for the next framework to explain the world to appear. It has, but it’s going to take a while before it’s in full bloom. After all, it was 300 years between Giotto and Isaac Newton.

from All watched over by machines of loving grace: Some ethical guidelines for user experience in ubiquitous-computing settings
by Adam Greenfield:

By comparison with the World Wide Web, ubiquitous computing is vastly more insinuative. By intention and design, it asserts itself in every moment and through every aperture contemporary life affords it3. It is everyware.

…Imagine the feeling of being stuck in voice-mail limbo, or fighting unwanted auto-formatting in a word processing program, or trying to quickly silence an unexpectedly ringing phone by touch, amid the hissing of fellow moviegoers – except all the time, and everywhere, and in the most intimate circumstances of our lives. Levels of discomfort we accept as routine (even, despite everything we know, inevitable!) in the reasonably delimited scenarios presented by our other artifacts will have redoubled impact in a ubicomp world.

no human society can survive the total evaporation of its protective hypocrisy.

Design Engaged

There’s such a marvelous variety of convergent thought going on out there, to which I feel myself connected. I stumbled into the site for the Design Engaged conference (in Amsterdam, mid-November), perhaps via my feed from Stephen Downes’ Edu_RSS and a posting (by Chris Heathcote) that says

Ubicomp isn’t a box you will buy from your local electronics retailer, plug in, and switch on. It’s lots of really small pieces loosely, sloppily joined – glued together.

So this morning I did a search for ‘design engaged’ and found a wonderful collection of links to papers/presentations in which I rolled gleefully (think: spaniel in dead fish…) for an hour or so. Among the pieces that struck particular chords:

Fabio Sergio’s post-conference thoughts and their associated links
That Syncing Feeling (Thomas Vander Wal)
Elastic Space (Timo Arnall, with many astonishing images of “stickering, graffiti and flyposting”)

MSN’s spaces

I decided to try out the new Microsoft blogging environment, if only to be able to tell others about it as a possibility (mine is another oook avatar), and to broaden my own thoughts about the phenomenon of blogging. This seems somehow much more my own space, though I’m not really sure why that is, given that I’ve so far done so little to personalize its configuration. It bears watching…

Maelstrom? Tsunami?

In the last couple of months my attention has been caught by a succession of virtual-world developments that, taken together, seem to be changing forever the landscape of teaching and learning. By now I shouldn’t be surprised that educational institutions scarcely notice the tremors, and are if anything somewhat hostile to even the thought that there might be other ways than the traditional.
Today it’s Skype, which I’ve known about for quite a while. This morning I happened to look at the slipstream of and added a Skype-related link to my own Ron Nigh has that collection as one of his RSS feeds, and he sent me a “Ron wants to talk to you via Skype” email (with a link to quick setup), so I thought well why not? and within 10 minutes I was talking to him –as he was setting up his class in Mexico City.
A few weeks ago it was Camtasia, thanks to Jon Udell’s postings on what’s now being called ‘screencasting’, and not too long before that, it was podcasting… All of these are facets of, well, what? Ubiquity (the proliferation of devices that are computers, though many don’t look like the traditional idea of a computer) is part of it, lotsa available bandwidth is another, and RSS and USB are other essential bits.
I can sit at my desk computer, at home or at work, and be continuously educating myself about a kaleidoscope of subjects, linked to one another by my interest in them, and my efforts to manage their flow. It’s infinitely varied and fascinating and productive, much more fun than whatever it was I used to do before the virtual tide rolled in.