Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Friday, June 18, 2004day link 

 Shell Chairman seems to Care
picture What is the world coming to? The chairman of Shell Oil, Ron Oxburgh, is admitting that the threat of climate change makes him really very worried for the planet. Article at Guardian. He in part talks about how we urgently need to capture the emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, probably a major contributor to global warming, and store it underground, a technique which is called carbon sequestration.
"Sequestration is difficult, but if we don't have sequestration then I see very little hope for the world."

"No one can be comfortable at the prospect of continuing to pump out the amounts of carbon dioxide that we are pumping out at present ... with consequences that we really can't predict but are probably not good."

"You probably have to put it under the sea but there are other possibilities. You may be able to trap it in solids or something like that."

"The timescale might be impossible, in which case I'm really very worried for the planet because I don't see any other approach."
Does he really care, or is he just voicing his support for something that probably isn't going to happen anyway? I don't know. Shell is indeed a company that invests quite a bit in alternative energy sources. Do they do that just to hedge their bets, or are they willing to do something to guide things in a different direction?
[ | 2004-06-18 17:28 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Synchronicity and the Web
picture Richard MacManus wrote a couple of articles about synchronicity and the web: Statis and Synchronicity and A Theory of Synchronicity for the Web.
Synchronicity is a term made famous by the psychiatrist Carl Jung. He defined synchronicity as an "occurrence of a meaningful coincidence in time". Further, it as "an acausal connecting principle". Which is to say that a connection occurs through the sharing of a common meaning, not because one event caused the other. Jung went so far as to boldly state that "synchronicity could thus be added as a fourth principle to the triad of space, time, and causality".

Synchronicity has come to mean a variety of things. Laurence Boldt claims that synchronicity reflects the "underlying interconnectedness of all things within the Universe" [my emphasis]. An attractive theory for those of us addicted to Web culture! Stephen J. Davis states that synchronicity is "a very personal and subjective observation of this inter-connected universe of which we are but a small part". Another keyword that pops up in writings about synchronicity is "flow" - which of course reminds me of the Web's Information Flow. When used to describe synchronicity, it's all about the "flow of life". For example, this quote:

"When we are in the flow we experience more synchronous events, more pleasure and less pain. The flow of coincidences is our path to higher ground."
So, yes, we need more synchronicity and more serendipity. He doesn't really say how that actually might work, but nevertheless it is an important subject.

We could use a synchronicity engine, really. Some tools that increase synchronicity.

Randomness is one way of going about it, even though it isn't enough in itself. If you look at some random, unexpected content frequently, you're likely to run into something unexpected that really fits for you. Random links used to be popular, but probably give you too much junk most of the time.

Collaborative Filtering might suggest new things to you that you didn't know about, but that fit your interest areas. E.g. Amazon will suggest a book to you that you maybe didn't know about, which has been bought by other people who've bought similar books as you. That's useful of course, but it is rarely what we would call synchronicity.

Blogging and the reading of many news feeds tends to increase synchronicity. You only look at a small sub-section of the world, as you read blog feeds you've already picked as being somehow interesting. You don't control what people write about, and you scan whatever it happens to be. And sometimes themes form unexpectedly. Several people write about the same things at the same time. Which might appear mysteriously meaningful and timely. OK, sometimes it is merely because they happened to read the same article and comment on it. The blog world is a bit inbred, as many people comment on the same things, and mainly scan each other's feeds and standard news sources for input.

Sometimes the most stimulating posts are either when somebody picks some unnoticed or old item or when they write about their own life, without referring to any news item. Looking around for unnoticed or new snippets of information is likely to increase synchronicity, as the item might appear timely and relevant for a bunch of other people, but also unexpected.

I like using semi-random content on some sites I've done. Quotes, web links, pictures, etc. The combinations of what pops up often seems meaningful to people. Like the quote was selected just for them.

It is like the old creativity technique of blindly finding two words in the dictionary, and then pretending that they relate to a particular situation or problem at hand, and looking for the meaningful connection between them. It is very often there, and it is often useful. That's a way of generating synchronicity.

There needs to be a wide-range freedom of motion for synchronicity to be more likely. If I only change between 3 quotes on my webpage, none of them will seem very synchronistic to most people. But if I have a few hundred, and they're good quotes in the first place, many people will find them strangely relevant.

Synchronicity is also increased the more different items I practically can manage to be shown. Again, if I see only one quote per day, chances are fewer that it will be really meaningful than if I could stand paying attention to 100. But I maybe can't. There's a sweet spot somewhere, where you're presented with enough diversity, but not so much that it becomes a blur.

If I go to a party with 10 people, and it turns out that two of us are wearing the same shirt, that's a coincidence I'll notice, even if it is not very meaningful. If we talk, and find out we were wearing the shirt for the same unlikely reason, then it begins being meaningful. But if there were 1000 people, and one of them was wearing the same shirt as me, that would just be statistics at work.

As to the net, the question is how to provide me with an increased number of coincidental fits, in a number that is great enough to be useful, and small enough to be remarkable.

There's probably some strange way of calculating the generative diversity in a volume of information, blog postings or whatever. And then maybe the synchronicity potential. You know, the information has to be sufficiently relevant to me in the first place, for me to bother paying attention to it. But sufficiently diverse and unexpected to supply me with new fits that I couldn't have guessed on my own.

In any stream of data one can measure the amount of information, at least theoretically. If I tell you 000000000000010000, then the information is in the part that is different. The 1 is the interesting part. The rest can easily be compressed into a very small space.

Same with the stream of postings in blog world, theoretically. How much of it is really people talking about the same things, and saying very similar things about them? How much of it is really new? How much of it is information? How much of it is knowledge being transferred, i.e. you actually get something you can do something with?

Synchronicity is often that you send out a signal you weren't aware of, and you get a response. If you're aware of it, it is something else. If I search for something on google, and I find it, it isn't terribly surprising any longer, and it isn't synchronicity. But it might be when I get an answer to something I didn't quite know I was asking.

I vaguely hear somebody mention a book at another table in a restaurant. I walk into a bookstore five minutes later, and there it is on the shelf, and when I open it, I realize it is very interesting and relevant to me. That's a synchronicity.

Aha, that gives some inkling of how we technologically can help it happen. Something needs to capture way more channels of information about you than you normally bother paying conscious attention to. At least not at the same time. What people have been saying around you recently; what clothes you're wearing; what's on your bookshelf; all the people you know; all the subjects you're interested in; all the projects you're working on. And something needs to be matching all these items with other people's items, and items in your surroundings, as a background process.

There's no reason you shouldn't be able to have access to sufficiently extensive and automatic information sharing that you can walk out on the street and something says "Beep! That person walking on the other side of the street is out to buy a washer. You have one for sale. Why don't you talk with him?"

We're simply talking about some kind of location-aware device that knows who's close by, in the real world, or in an online setting. And then some way of representing a large number of needs and wants and what's available. That's the harder part. Expressing a lot of fairly fuzzy human resources and resource requirements in a finite enough way that they can be automatically matched. Even if they might not have been deliberately voiced.

In principle the objective is simple. You'd carry a lot of informational receptors in your space. They will link up with matching reciprocal receptors that are available in your environment. If done right, it is a technology-assisted way of being in the flow all the time.

What most people want is out there, and probably close by. What most people offer is needed somewhere, probably close by.

We could very well get used to having things matched up effortlessly, rather than having to spend a lot of energy looking for things that aren't there. And lot of things would just be working, by lightning speed.

It can take several frustrating hours to look for a suitable plane flight that is cheap and actually available. There's no good reason you shouldn't get the information that you eventaully end up with, but right away, in the first try. It can take hours looking for the right product for some purpose. It can be a good deal of work selling some item, as you need to locate good places, and there are several of them, and you aren't in any way guaranteed to find the people who really want your item. All of that kind of thing could simply be an automatic underlying substrate of connectivity, that connects those things that fit, and lets you know about it, and which doesn't waste your time with all the things that don't fit.

The Synchronicity Engine. We need it soon.

[ | 2004-06-18 18:55 | 6 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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