Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Wednesday, October 15, 2003day link 

 Attention
Some days ago Doc Searls quoted Esther Dyson blogging at Bloggercon:
"The first magic of blogging, of course, is that everyone can self-publish. Everyone has a voice. The tools makes that possible.

But the next magic, much harder to achieve, is that everyone wants to be listened to...

[...] In the blogosphere, there's no shortage of airtime, but there's still a shortage of attention."
In earlier times, unless you were the village idiot, you'd expect that when you spoke to people, they'd stand still, pay attention, listen, and respond. But in the Internet age you'll have to get used to the fact that there's no guarantee that people will pay attention to you. I've seen quite a few people be shocked when they realized that. "But, but.. what I'm saying is really IMPORTANT. And I'm talking really LOUD." There's just not enough attention to go around. Doesn't mean there's anything wrong with what you're saying, necessarily.

But we do need tools to expand our attention. I.e. be able pay attention to more things without going crazy. If I lift up into the air over the earth, many details will go out of focus, but I'll end up with a beautiful picture of a whole round earth with land and sea and clouds. My picture of the earth becomes more whole and simple by seeing more at the same time. But in our information world, if I try to see more at the same time, I'll just get information overload and go nuts. There's no inherently good reason for that, other than that we're addicted to disjointed information that doesn't fit together when we scale up.
[ | 2003-10-15 16:00 | 16 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Mirror Worlds
picture Steven Johnson had an interesting article in Discover in May: "Imagine if SimCity wasn't just a game". In part he's talking about David Gelernter's vision of mirror worlds. Computer simulations of the real world.
"Mirror worlds were not supposed to be an escape from reality; they were supposed to reflect reality. A modern-day city generates plumes of data the way 19th-century industrial towns generated smoke. There are block-by-block crime statistics, test scores for every student in every school, traffic reports updated by the second, demographic profiles by zip code, and so on. All of those numbers exist somewhere in cyberspace, but finding them is next to impossible. Gelernter envisioned a centralized repository for all this data, a virtual reconstruction of a space that would showcase everything going on in reality. Gelernter's simulated worlds were going to be mirrors. By comparison, the simulations we have now are fantasy islands.

In a true mirror world, data would be mapped onto recognizable shapes from real life. For instance, to find information on a local hospital, you would locate the building on a computerized map and click on it with an "inspector" tool. Within seconds, the big-picture data about the facility would come into focus: number of patients and doctors, annual budget, how many patients died in operating rooms last year, and more. If you were looking for more specific information—say you were considering giving birth at the hospital—you could zoom in to the obstetrics department, where you would see data on such subjects as successful births, premature babies, and stillborns. Information about how the hospital connects to the wider city—what Gelernter calls topsight—could be had by zooming out."
That's what I want too. Most computerized information is too damn scattered about and isn't visualized as what it really is.

More and more impressive simulated fantasy worlds are created through computers, mostly in the form of games. But what about all the data I really need access to in life, and which actually would make a substantial difference in the quality of my choices. That's what I'd most want good simulations of. Not only for affairs in my own life, but I want to get a more clear picture of what is going on in the world. What is really happening in terms of economy and environment and culture? News tends to just give a dumbed-down soundbite summary of selected parts. I want to see for myself.

Here in Gelernter's own words:
"My life, like your life, is a series of events in time, with a past, present, and future," Gelernter says, sitting in a conference room in the New Haven offices of Mirror Worlds Inc., the software company he cofounded. "And that's the way my software ought to look. The mirror worlds approach to organizing information is based on reality, as opposed to an engineer's or a computer scientist's fantasy. I don't want my personal life to be stored in an arbitrary UNIX file tree; I want it to be life-shaped—the shape of the way I live it." He gestures out the window, to the stately spires and ivy-covered buildings of the Yale campus. "I want information on New Haven to be New Haven-shaped, not in 10,000 separate databases."
Right on. Life size. Life shaped. The metaphor of a desktop with notes and files serves badly in giving a good picture of my world. My real-life desktop doesn't do that, so why should it if it is on my computer screen. No, it needs to have at least the scope of the full physical environment. And after that I'd like to go beyond that and have more dimensions than what we walk around in. But life-size data would be a good start.
[ | 2003-10-15 16:00 | 14 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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