Friday, December 16, 2005

Ahhh... Those were the days

In honour of the fifth year since I founded Enfolding Systems (which was originally called Burning Tiger), I thought that I would repost a conversation we had in the early days about precision vs. expressiveness. This conversation was captured by my friend and colleague Stewart Butterfield (later of Flickr fame), who was working with us at the time.
"...we humans spend most of our time classifying and constraining: This is a fax number and not a cell phone; this is a press release and not an airplane manual. The free-form world is made up of primitives that we assemble together to construct more complex systems. The challenge, as I see it, is that these primitives are themselves made up of yet smaller things, and so forth, fractally. You could go to the nth degree of detail, but that's not how humans work. We get to an acceptible level of detail for our purpose, and then approximate the rest. For any given actor in a particular context there is a level of detail that is acceptible, and it can be substantially different given a different actor or even subtle changes in context."

2 Comments:

Anonymous Dennis said...

This is an interesting topic. It is related to the theory of semiotics in that we don't really see the world. What we do is see signals rather that try to interpret every morsel of information that hits us in the face like a slushy ice ball (Winnipeggers know about this). So for example when you see someone you know come down the street you see the clothes, the height, the colours, and other signals that represent your friend. Then when they get close enough for you to see details, that's when you see that this person is not who you thought they were. Semiotics is our way of dealing with the mess of information we would otherwise have to process.

27/2/06 08:22  
Blogger Fergusson said...

I just finished reading Bill Wasik's exposition of his flash mob experiment. Perhaps this capacity for approximation is related to the "deindividuation" he refers to in his essay. We begin to lose the edges of ourselves into the group identity, and so act more as an agent of the group, instead of as an individual person.

27/2/06 11:07  

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