Disorganised v.s. Neat Systems

The Information Management: A Proposal is as the title hints a proposal written in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee while he was working at the European Council for Nuclear Research or CERN. The essay talks about the benefit of interlinked databases in the research environment and how to implement them at CERN. An interesting concept of the Internet is it’s lack of centralization, it is for all intend and purposes a huge mess, and that is why it has endured so much and will continue to do so in the future to come.  Let me explain why this is so. In System Engineering there are tenants or rule-of-thumbs that are the basis to any good system design. They might not all apply to one specific system but they are tested and proven principles that make a system robust and efficient. The rule that applies to our situation here is, Sloppy systems are often better: “Diverse, decentralized systems often seem disorganized and wasteful, but they are always more stable, flexible and efficient that “neater” systems” (Kauffman, 1980). Basically highly adaptable systems look sloppy compared to a systems that are well-adapted to a specific situation, but the sloppy-looking systems are the ones that will survive. The picture bellow is a diagram of the Department of Defense procurement process and system life cycle management. It’s not a perfect system but it is highly adaptable. The current problem with this model is that innovation or changes is quite difficult to implement, mainly by fear that it could destabilize the whole process.

For example lets look at the human body: it’s not particularly simple or centralized, it’s filled with redundancies and fail-safes of sorts. When we get badly hurt, we usually bleed everywhere, it’s very messy but that messiness makes it incredibly resistant and has a huge capability to adapt to different environments. If we know look at current technology there is a trend to produce products that are self-contained, all-in-one and all that in the smallest possible size. This results in cutting edge (literately) computers and cell phones but drop it in a certain way and BOOM the screen either shatters or just goes black! Some would argue that it’s not a problem because they change cellphones like they change clothes. Maybe we are progressing towards a disposable technology age, but in our current time, where waste management and pollution are the two biggest problems our society is facing a question arises: Are we going in the right direction?

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Getting educated out of creativity

While reading the last pages of McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage I couldn’t stop thinking about his view and opinion on education. I went to high school under the French educational system which is very different from what people are used to here. Like many European education system the French system is borderline antique, it has not changed in its core principles since its creation in 1880. What is being taught obviously changes but the methods and principles behind the teaching has stayed the same. For some reason there is a huge reluctance to adopt modern teaching methods using today’s technology and teaching methods. We are still in a system that ranks different subjects in order importance. For the past centuries that order hasn’t changed, from mathematics to sciences to arts. One would think that in today’s world we are all sufficiently educated to know that some people are dancers and other are researchers. That doesn’t mean one is better than the other they are just two different people. And yes this is still related to technology, because educators consider using ipads in their classes the same things as replacing a math class with a dance class. School is where children are sent to learn, and to flourish, but the truth is that they are barely learning and there are definitely not flourishing. Just by looking at the dropout rates in any modern country one should realize that this is a huge problem. Education and academia are one of those places where changes are rarely welcome, it up to the student to conform to what they are being taught. In essence, we are robbing children and students from their creative capabilities.  And anyone who dares to stay true to who they are classified as problem students and diagnosed with ADHD. Sir Ken Robinson, an internationally recognized leader in the development of education, creativity and innovation once said: “We are educating people out of their creative capacities”.

This refusal to change, to accept new methods of teaching and new technology constitute the greatest threats that are future children will have to face.

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Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra

This excerpt from Orality and literacy: the technologizing of the word, written by Walter J. Ong talks about a culture devoid of any physical way of communication. What I mean by “physical” is tangible method of communication that you can store, modify, display and like the text says: “look it up”. Like for anything extremes are not the wanted solution. Yes, it might be novel and interesting but in the long run extremely impractical. This applies as well to the extreme that our generation is running towards: an purely written culture. And not even well written for that, just the basic minimum to get our point across to our interlocutor. This kind of future is not difficult to imagine when you see two people texting. That being said I do believe we as a people/species will stop and realize the error of our ways and begin our journey back up the proverbial hole.

Dathon and Captain Jean-Luc Picard

On another note I found the part about proverbs being used to communicate in a purely oral culture quite interesting. You see, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I am huge Star-Trek fan. To be more precise, Star-Trek The Next Generation. In that series their is an episode where Captain Jean-Luc Picard finds himself stranded on a planet with an bizarre humanoid man called Dathon that only communicates in proverbs. One of the more prevalent proverb is “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra”, it refers to a folk tale of two very different individual stranded on an Island. What Dathon meant to say was they were stuck and had to work together to survive.

Maybe if a human from the future, travels back in time meet us now, we will have the same problem that Captain Picard and Dathon had. Only time will tell.

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Technology, Cultural Stupidity and Possible Suffocation

As I was reading the first few pages of McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage I was struck by this idea of specialization. In today’s technological age everyone knows more about what they do and less about everything else. Fifty years ago you might have been fighting for a job with another person, now your are fighting for that same job with a computer. There is no value anymore in being culturally knowledgeable anymore. The only real valuable thing is to ensure that the one task you do you do better than a machine. This mindset and attitude is paving the way for the Human race to devolve into a bunch of bipeds machine that day after day perform the same task over and over again.  In a way we want to be more like computers, which is ironic when you think of the Star Trek android Data.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_(Star_Trek)

 

One has to wonder, why would the creators of a science fiction show set 500 years in the future create an android who’s greatest aspiration in to become more human.

All of this brought back feelings and opinion I usually keep for one of those late Friday evening discussions: technology is evolving that is too fast for us to fully comprehend and understand it.

Think about a child opening his gifts a Christmas morning. Every new toy he opens is better and bigger than the other one. He opens the first one, plays with it for a while, but then notices a bigger gift. He then proceeds to throw away that brand new toy that a minute ago was the best thing in the world, and now, starts playing with the bigger one.  He then sees an even bigger one…

We are all very young and very inpatient, we don’t stop and think about what we just created mainly because we don’t have the time. As soon as a new technology appears another one is right at the corner. The current model that we live in does not let us catch our breath and we don’t stop and breath, suffocation is inevitable.

Picture Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_(Star_Trek)

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