A large part of the process of songwriting is spent waiting in a state of attention before the unknown. We stand in vigil, waiting for Jesus to emerge from the tomb — the divine idea, the beautiful idea — and reveal Himself.
Often, the beautiful idea that has formed is at first unrecognisable to us. We don’t see it for what it is, because it is new and implausible.
Ambiguity can be freeing. The lack of specificity helped a lot. It freed me from things that had become a chore (“write!” “use the machine you spent a fortune on and years waiting for!”) and focused me on how I wanted to feel – creative. It also set the bar lower on days when I needed it to be lower, and allowed me to get started at all.
Ingrid Burrington, in her fascinating newsletter on mineral resources, commenting on a Volkswagen slide deck:
The phrase "more future compliant" is so fucking resonant and weird, isn't it? It kind of perfectly sums up what's at stake in the transition away from carbon energy and the politics of extraction.
"Compliance" is the word corporations use to police their own employees; in my own experience, it appears when legal and accounting departments gain power over other company functions. "Future compliant" is a phrase used by those who are coerced into taking their own externalities seriously.
(Also: public debate has a tendency to take old technologies and institutions, such as mining, as granted and uncontroversial. The idea of writing about natural resources – in a way that never focuses on a single aspect but tries to intertwine political, social, commercial, technical, ecological ramifications – has a Shock of the Old vibe: both subversive and introspective. Rather than the trite "what should we do know" of ethical discourse, this asks "on whose bones are we standing".)
William Davies, arguing that the online political discussion is set up around the idea of Carl Schmitt's plebiscite:
A polity that privileges decision first and understanding second will have some terrible mess to sort out along the way.
The article explores how false debates, organized around insane alternatives (“is history something to be proud of or ashamed of?”) reinforce othering. I liked the idea of this structuration being the product of devices:
In a society of excessive choice, we become reliant on what the French sociologist Lucien Karpik has described as ‘judgment devices’, prosthetic aids which support us in the exhausting labour of choosing and preferring. Karpik studied such comfortingly analogue examples as the Michelin restaurant guide.
There’s a vacuum of design criticism because “design thinking” doesn’t offer a framework or vocabulary for criticizing capitalism, and most culturally significant digital design at the moment is the rendering of raw capitalism.
I think that for some of us it is almost impossible to have a cohesive identity or, rather, there are some whose inconsistent and conflicted sense of self is their identity.
Weird is not a thing, it is a process. It is also an emergent product which somehow precedes every combination of events, genres & skills it can be said to emerge from. Good luck with planning to be weird, see you at the ceremony.
Paul Ford, on how online writing has changed in the last 15 years:
I think, back then, you could tell a person who had good opinions because they'd say offensive things, while the fewer offensive things a person said, the worse their opinions. Contrast Dave Chappelle to George W. Bush. But now to speak without offense is good, while the awful people feel obligated to say absolutely terrible things to demonstrate their freedom.
I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
“What else have you stolen?” I ask Warren.
“Everything,” he says, “Absolutely, everything.”
Miriam Posner, in a piece on the opacity of supply chains, remarks on software's role in removing visibility and control (and ultimately, responsibility) from the actors:
Leonardo Bonanni is the founder and CEO of a company called Sourcemap, which aims to help companies map their own supply chains. Bonanni suspects that companies’ inability to visualize their own supply chain is partly a function of SAP’s architecture itself. “It’s funny, because the DNA of software really speaks through,” said Bonanni. “If you look at SAP, the database is still actually written in German. The relations in it are all one-link. They never intended for supply chains to involve so many people, and to be interesting to so many parts of the company.”
It's not a software issue – but SAP is culture much more than it is software.
Events this overbearing leave you with the growing sense that unless you foreground them, you have no position to speak from and no business speaking.
Mark O’Connell spends one day sitting in a forest, doing nothing:
At some point it came to my attention that I was no longer bored, and that I had not been bored for some time. This is not to say that I was in a state of high mental stimulation, but that the hours of inactivity had induced in me a kind of meditative stupor, whereby I was receptive to the information of the environment – to the ceaseless clamour of the river, the chattering of the birds overhead, the urgent whisperings of the leaves in the breeze, the modulations of temperature and light – but uninclined to think much about this information, or anything else. I had, I realised, become attuned to the frequencies of the forest. I had found the secret level.
Tools reinforcing certain facets of text publication: interconnectedness, ease of paid distribution, free form, live brainstorming.
Venkatesh Rao, discussing the crafts traditionally involved in understanding systems, makes the distinction between map-making and sense-making:
Map-makers try to make one map that accounts for everything they see happening to things they care about. Then they try to craft narratives on that one map. Maps can be wrong or incomplete, but they aren’t usually incoherent or entropic, because they represent a single, totalizing, absolutely interested point of view, and a set of associated epistemic, ontological, and aesthetic preferences.
Sense-makers on the other hand, try to come at the territory using multiple maps, as well as direct experience. Theirs is not a disinterested point of view, but a relative, multi-interested point of view. We want various points of view to agree in a certain limited sense, lending confidence to our hope that we’ve made sense of reality through triangulation.
(Map-makers might be more adequately characterized as map-users.)
Design research is very much a sense-making operation that aims to establish a new map. The clients of design research are in possession of an outdated, and possibly biased, map.
Research is often presented as a reality check, with field studies helping debunk and update old maps. But entrenched map-makers need more than a check from reality, they need an injection of possibilities. A multiplication of the point of views, through direct ethnographic studies, social sciences, experimentations. A good research narrative is the resolution of a controversy, in the form of a new map.
Rao, on what makes an existing map cease to work:
Things stop making sense when it sounds like the different maps are about different territories altogether, and aren’t even talking about the same story. When that happens, sense-making fragments. Instead of an assemblage of almost co-extensive stories that refer to the same assumed underlying reality territory, it begins to seem as though entire diverging stories are playing out, which are only incidentally connected at the margins.
He calls the structural divergence of point of views a "weirding". Designers who have striven to reconcile a business' interest with individual needs and interests know this kind of divergence very well. Another divergence currently getting exposure is the one between caring for individual experiences and caring for environmental sustainability. Different maps, different ways of looking at the world, previously not distinguished, now irreconcilable.
“With each set of three books, I’ve commenced with a sort of deep reading of the fuckedness quotient of the day,” he explained. “I then have to adjust my fiction in relation to how fucked and how far out the present actually is.”
Obadia also points out that although the concept of “superstition” is rooted in a condescending othering of “backward“ or non-Western modes of thinking, it does not mean it should be abandoned.
Examining these examples in a pragmatic way, it appears people will sometimes ascribe agency to devices when they have difficulty understanding how those devices work. And this agency giving is part of a domestication process of technology. (Sometimes, Nova argues, people’s ignorance is maintained on purpose, and “magic” is used as part of marketing discourse.)
What’s interesting in this behaviour – giving agency to technology that does not behave in predictable ways – is that it is almost never leveraged on purpose. It behaves like an unwritten script for the object, one that no designer has anticipated. It’s revealing of the wildness of machines beneath the domesticating efforts of code and design.
Or, further evidence of computing used as a tool for centralization.
I think the computer has from the beginning been a fundamentally conservative force. It has made possible the saving of institutions pretty much as they were, which otherwise might have had to be changed. For example, banking. Superficially, it looks as if banking has been revolutionized by the computer. But only very superficially. Consider that, say 20, 25 years ago, the banks were faced with the fact that the population was growing at a very rapid rate, many more checks would be written than before, and so on. Their response was to bring in the computer. By the way, I helped design the first computer banking system in the United States, for the Bank of America 25 years ago.
Now if it had not been for the computer, if the computer had not been invented, what would the banks have had to do? They might have had to decentralize, or they might have had to regionalize in some way. In other words, it might have been necessary to introduce a social invention, as opposed to the technical invention.
What the coming of the computer did, “just in time,” was to make it unnecessary to create social inventions, to change the system in any way. So in that sense, the computer has acted as fundamentally a conservative force, a force which kept power or even solidified power where is already existed.
But there are none so frightened, or so strange in their fear, as conquerors. They conjure phantoms endlessly, terrified that their victims will someday do back what was done to them—even if, in truth, their victims couldn’t care less about such pettiness and have moved on. Conquerors live in dread of the day when they are shown to be, not superior, but simply lucky.
There’s nothing wrong with madly optimistic appraisals of how technology might benefit human society. But the current drive for a post-human utopia is something else. It’s less a vision for the wholesale migration of humanity to a new a state of being than a quest to transcend all that is human: the body, interdependence, compassion, vulnerability, and complexity. As technology philosophers have been pointing out for years, now, the transhumanist vision too easily reduces all of reality to data, concluding that “humans are nothing but information-processing objects.”