From Jane Jacobs, on the way transformations come out of weird sectors.
Even the most startling cultural and economic developments do not arise out of thin air. They are always built upon prior developments and upon a certain amount of serendipity and chance. And their consequences are unpredictable, even to their originators and the pioneers who believed in them and initiated them. After all, the first financially successful railroad in the world was an amusement ride in London. Many of us remember when plastics were useful for little except toys, kitchen gadgets and decorative touches that taste-makers derided for their vulgarity. That was before strong, lightweight plastics, reinforced with fibers of glass, boron or carbon, replaced metals in the making of springs and joints. These plastics transformed serious spectacle frames like mine. At last I have frames that never hurt my nose and ears and that last for years without weakened joints. These plastics were originated by the makers of tennis rackets and of rods for surf and sport fishing. nyt
Early on Twitter was seen as a status sharing service by lots of users. But if early employee Noah Glass is to be believed, it was, from the very beginning, also meant to be about conversation.
“All is Fair in Love and Twitter” narrates the early conversation between Glass and Jack Dorsey that would lead to the creation of Twitter:
As he listened to Dorsey talk, Glass would later recall, he stared out the window, thinking about his failing marriage and how alone he felt. Then he had an epiphany. This status thing wasn’t just about sharing what kind of music you were listening to or where you were, he thought. It could be a conversation. It wasn’t about reporting; it was about connecting. There could be a real business in that. He would certainly like such a service: his nights alone in his apartment, alone in his office, alone in his car, could feel less alone with a steady stream of conversation percolating online. The two brainstormed for a while longer, and as Dorsey staggered out of the car to go home, Glass said, “Let’s talk to Ev and the others about it tomorrow.” (post)
Stravinsky, like many artists of his time, saw in mechanical reproduction of performance a way to ensure fidelity to the original artistic vision. Hedy’s Folly records his initial reaction to the player piano (and later, the gramaphone):
Pleyel had contacted Stravinsky in 1921 to propose that he transcribe his works for the Pleyela reproducing piano. The company offered him use of a suite of rooms in its building in Paris and technical support. He quickly decided to accept the offer, he wrote, for two reasons:
“In order to prevent the distortion of my compositions by future interpreters, I had always been anxious to find a means of imposing some restriction on the notorious liberty…which prevents the public from obtaining a correct idea of the author’s intentions. This possibility was now afforded by the rolls of the mechanical piano, and a little later, by gramaphone records.” — Hedy’s Folly by Richard Rhodes (amazon)
It is strange to think it, but until very modern times composers and playwrights had no way to “fix” the interpretation of their work, to prevent its inevitable drift as interpretations of interpretations changed its nature over time. The ability of reproduction technology to control such interpretation was among the very first benefits seen by composers. (Debussy and Gershwin had similar reactions). Mechanical reproduction has always been partly about control.
See also Jacquard Loom for an early example of mechanization by recipe.
Surprisingly, fatigue may boost creative powers. For most adults, problems that require open-ended thinking are often best tackled in the evening when they are tired, according to a 2011 study in the journal Thinking & Reasoning. When 428 students were asked to solve a series of two types of problems, requiring either analytical or novel thinking, their performance on the second type was best at non-peak times of day when they were tired, according to the study led by Mareike Wieth, an assistant professor of psychological sciences at Albion College in Michigan. (Their performance on analytical problems didn’t change over the course of the day.) Fatigue, Dr. Wieth says, may allow the mind to wander more freely to explore alternative solutions. (wsj)
Wasilly Kandinsky is seen as the first purely abstract artist in the modern meaning of the term. But as the the realization of the power of the pure abstract came about through accident.
Art by 1910 had been in an abstract mode for some time, with artists like Monet and Cezanne having paved the way. Initially Kandinsky was such a painter, painting street scenes in and other subjects in an impressionistic style.
Things changed for Kandinsky rather suddenly on a day in 1910:
In his memoirs Kandinsky recalls the day in 1910 when he accidentally discovered nonrepresentational art. As he returned home at sunset he was struck as he entered his studio by an “indescribably beautiful painting, all irradiated by an interior light.” He could distinguish only “forms and colors and no meaning.” He soon realized that it was one of his own paintings turned on its side. Soon after he began working on paintings that came to be considered the first totally abstract works in modern art; they made no reference to objects of the physical world and derived their inspiration and titles from music. (html)
In the 1960s and 1970s art philosopher Arthur Danto wrote a series of articles examining the claim of found objects presented as art to be art rather than simply objects.
From his 1974 article “The Transfiguration of the Commonplace”, “I think of the singular intoxication the first pop-art exhibits brought to spectators when they saw such crass objects as ironing boards and vacuum cleaners in a space where they no longer had any power over us, standing helpless and impotent like stranded sea monsters, in the neutralising space of the gallery.” link
The preference for female voices in our machines (Siri, Cortana, Echo) comes as much (or more) from women as men.
MacDorman should know. He and fellow researchers played clips of male and female voices to people of both genders, then asked them to identify which they preferred. The researchers also measured the way participants actually responded to the voices. In a 2011 paper, they reported that both women and men said female voices came across as warmer. In practice, women even showed a subconsciouspreference for responding to females; men remained subconsciously neutral. “Men will say they prefer female speech, and women really do prefer it,” MacDorman says. (post)
The preference for female voices may be a preference for an Aesthetic of Powerlessness in our technology, which renders technology less threatening.
Male dominated professions, such as airplane piloting, often develop derogatory names for female voices. See Bitching Betty
The Script Theory of Schank and Abelson was an attempt, in large part, to explain why computers were so bad at basic comprehension of text. While some cognitive theorists hypothesized that computers needed a more subtle understanding of language, Schank and Abelson went the opposite direction: machines were lousy at language because they lacked an understanding of the “scripts” that make up daily existence.
The classic example is the “restaurant” script. You start to tell someone “So I went to a restaurant, and the waitress is bringing me dessert…” What does a normal person intuit?
The assumption is that you came an were seated, have eaten a meal and now are having dessert. The story you tell only deals with deviations from the known script.
A computer on the other hand is likely to look at the article “the” in front of “waitress” and wonder where the heck this waitress came from and why you are not calling her “a” waitress when you haven’t introduced her to the story yet.
Schank and Abelson built a language of semantic primitives that could represent most common scripts and help computers with linguistic interpretation.
Script Theory is related to Minsky’s Frame Theory, but script theory is more specifically focused on the discovery and encoding of cultural scripts. (correct???)
Many decisions in social software production and administration degrade the experience of the individual in the interest of producing healthy group dynamics. Clay Shirky explains why this is a good thing in Own Worst Enemy:
Now, this pulls against the cardinal virtue of ease of use. But ease of use is wrong. Ease of use is the wrong way to look at the situation, because you’ve got the Necker cube flipped in the wrong direction. The user of social software is the group, not the individual. — Shirky, in Own Worst Enemy.
Justly famous post by Clay Shirky on the way groups work to defeat themselves.
So these are human patterns that have shown up on the Internet, not because of the software, but because it’s being used by humans. Bion has identified this possibility of groups sandbagging their sophisticated goals with these basic urges. And what he finally came to, in analyzing this tension, is that group structure is necessary. Robert’s Rules of Order are necessary. Constitutions are necessary. Norms, rituals, laws, the whole list of ways that we say, out of the universe of possible behaviors, we’re going to draw a relatively small circle around the acceptable ones.
He said the group structure is necessary to defend the group from itself. Group structure exists to keep a group on target, on track, on message, on charter, whatever. To keep a group focused on its own sophisticated goals and to keep a group from sliding into these basic patterns. Group structure defends the group from the action of its own members.(Source)
We want to see the user of software as the individual, as we do with desktop apps, but, as Shirky notes, in social software The User is the Group Cohen’s Law predicts unmoderated groups will spend increasing bandwidth arguing about moderation.
Peter Elbow is a Professor of English Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he also directed the Writing Program from 1996 until 2000. He writes about theory, practice, and pedagogy, and has authored several books and a number of papers. His practices in regard to editing and revising are now widely accepted and taught as the writing process. The invention technique freewriting is dubbed as a “student-centered movement”.