Every year around this time John Brockman poses some Big Question to his Edge discussion group, a salon of scientists and intellectuals. The results are typically all over the map but you can almost always find something of value and/or use. This year’s question was “What have you changed your mind about?” Here are some nuggets I excavated from the sprawling pile:
BoingBoing’s Xeni Jardin writes about how online communities need tending, describing BoingBoing’s experience with managing its comment space (the site hired Making Light‘s Teresa Nielsen Hayden to moderate). Her conclusion is that online discussions are best moderated by human hosts rather than voting systems or algorithms:
Plucking one early weed from a bed of germinating seeds changes everything. Small actions by focused participants change the tone of the whole. It is possible to maintain big healthy gardens online. The solution isn’t cheap, or easy, or hands-free. Few things of value are.
This isn’t exactly news; the gardening metaphor as applied to online conversation has a long history stretching back to the early days of the Well (and probably Usenet as well) and extending more recently into communities like Flickr and Wikipedia. But each new generation of online services needs to learn this lesson through experience; BoingBoing has managed it well.
I believe that attention is the most powerful tool of the human spirit and that we can enhance or augment our attention with practices like meditation and exercise, diffuse it with technologies like email and Blackberries, or alter it with pharmaceuticals.
But lately I have observed that the way in which many of us interact with our personal technologies makes it impossible to use this extraordinary tool of attention to our advantage.
In observing others — in their offices, their homes, at cafes — the vast majority of people hold their breath especially when they first begin responding to email. On cell phones, especially when talking and walking, people tend to hyper-ventilate or over-breathe.
The rest is here.
It’s not Hu Jintao who is deluded in believing that the net might serve as a powerful tool for central control. It is those who assume otherwise. I used to count myself among them. But I’ve changed my mind.
Kai Krause, who created software tools for designers that were hugely popular a decade or so ago, writes about the frustrating ephemerality of creativity in the software field.
Noting that “hardly any of my software even still runs at all,” he writes:
I used to think “Software Design” is an art form.
I now believe that I was half-right:
it is indeed an art, but it has a rather short half-life:
Software is merely a performance art!
A momentary flash of brilliance, doomed to be overtaken by the next wave, or maybe even by its own sequel. Eaten alive by its successors. And time…
Finally, Alison Gopnik, the psychologist and coauthor of The Scientist in the Crib, writes about the purpose of imaginative play:
Learning about the real world has obvious evolutionary advantages and kids do it better than anyone else. But why spend so much time thinking about wildly, flagrantly unreal worlds? The mystery about pretend play is connected to a mystery about adult humans – especially vivid for an English professor’s daughter like me. Why do we love obviously false plays and novels and movies?
…In fact, I think now that the two abilities — finding the truth about the world and creating new worlds — are two sides of the same coins. Theories, in science or childhood, don’t just tell us what’s true — they tell us what’s possible, and they tell us how to get to those possibilities from where we are now. When children learn and when they pretend they use their knowledge of the world to create new possibilities. So do we whether we are doing science or writing novels. I don’t think anymore that Science and Fiction are just both Good Things that complement each other. I think they are, quite literally, the same thing.
A fine insight — one that generations of readers of science fiction and fantasy know in their bones already.
[tags]edge, john brockman, xeni jardin, boingboing, online communities, linda stone, attention, nicholas carr, kai krause, alison gopnik[/tags]
- 12 December, 2008 @ 10:48 [Current Revision] by Scott Rosenberg
- 7 January, 2008 @ 10:48 by Scott Rosenberg