Choices and Beauty (a rant)

02007-07-06 | Musings, World | 4 comments

This most likely will be a long rambling post about stuff that’s been on my mind. I have talked about it on separate occasions with Jon Gagan (over lunch), Andrew Gaskins (over tea), Keith Vizcarra (in his workshop when I dropped off my fav DeVoe for crack-patching) and Colin and other Integral-types (after the Boulder show last Friday)… There is really nothing new here, just a few lines connecting stuff – trying to make sense of how it fits together.

Television moved from 4 channels to cable/sattelite with 400 channels and now to YouTube. Less editing and more choice. I am told that one of the most viewed clips on YouTube is some guy lighting his fart, which I think says a lot about the medium. Parallel to that we have the music biz. Up until the mid-nineties recording was so expensive that only a few musicians would stay in the game if they didn’t receive record company support. A large number of musicians would simply drop out after a while and decide to play in cover bands or take other jobs. Out of the musos that stayed in the game and continued to find ways to pay for studio time with the money from lots of live-performances, a willing donor or day-jobs, the record companies would pick a very small number who received corporate support. So, two elements whittled down the number of acts, the cost of recording and the record company selection process.

Here is what I do in the face of too much choice:
After surfing lots of channels and not finding anything to watch I usually decided that it was a waste of my time and grabbed a book. Then I got rid of TV altogether. The same is true for music. I buy a lot less than I used to. I am overwhelmed by the choice and frankly am not willing to put in the time to find something I might enjoy. I mostly rely on my network of friends to make suggestions.

Jon thinks that the next step in this chain from 4 networks to cable/sattelite to YouTube might be some kind of subscription to an editor or curator who emails his selections to customers. Somebody who wades through gigabites of crap to find the good stuff. I have mentioned the curator concept a number of times as well. See this post from 1999 or this one. I am not sure how many people would be willing to pay money for such a curator subscription, but there are other revenue models out that might work…

What might really work is a great network of people… I use the word people instead of friends because friends can be too homogenous. If you want to throw a great party you don’t invite a bunch of similar thinking people! No, you select a couple of extreme thinkers and you buffer them with moderates. Very important is how/where you seat everyone. There is a real art to this and some people have a great knack for it. Nothing will ever replace meeting people in meatspace… Warning: here starts another tangent… Speaking of meatspace, humans are 99.5% genetically alike. The remaining .5% is what we have killed so many people for: the shape of an eye, the curve of a nose, the look of a forehead – small and subtle differences when we consider all humans… A Korean girlfriend told me in the late Eighties about arriving in the USA when she was seven years old. She could not tell any of the white folks apart… they all looked the same to her. Well, that’s because it takes training to tell us humans apart by the 0.5% in genetic differential! So to each race the other, unfamiliar races look homogenous. The same is true for music, by the way. If you play Bebop or trad Flamenco to the uninitiated, they will not be able to hear what is outstanding about this particular version or how terrible this other one is… We can differentiate that which we are familiar or intimate with, everything remains apart. Another tangent: wouldn’t it be great if these tangents were another layer, hyper-linked to the main post and I could have several layers for each post… hm, has any blooging software ever considered coding something like this? Can’t be that hard and it would go another step in creating a new medium. Yes, I could work around this and create a separate post and then link to it – but that’s just not the same!! I am talking about having, say 3 or more layers available when writing a post. One could use a different link-color to differentiate between an outside link and a layer-link…

Anyway, what about the internet? Isn’t that a great space for networking? Not really. I think one really needs that person with a knack to bring the right people together. Zaadz does not do it for me, MySpace is plain ugly… So how would one go about it? One would have to have a beautiful and intuitive interface first of all. (What did you say on Friday, Colin? The most direct way between points A and B is the aesthetic solution? Something like that. Colin also mentioned that Ken Wilber and the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas are contributing new thoughts on the subject of editing or quality.) And no, a computer cannot create that network – I have not once liked a suggestion amazon.com has offered me. You might answer that the system is just not complex enough and does not have enough data yet. Maybe that’s true and maybe it’s just not something a computer can do well. If you like this you are NOT necessarily going to like that…

The Good, the True and the Beautiful. Not a new concept. Plato came up with that a long time ago and Ken Wilber has written a lot of great stuff about it. My question is this: Is a life worth living if you are only offered clean water and clean air, but no elegance or beauty? And what happens when Beauty is eliminated from our schools because politicians and parents don’t want to “waste” resources on art-education and music?

And one last thought: in the past it was easy, even convenient, to literally forget about the masses… the plebs, the “great unwashed“. They were fodder for wars and industry. The less education was offered to people, the easier it was to manipulate them. Well, now they will be the ones deciding whether this planet will live. We can no longer afford to solve a manufacturing problem (read: design problem) by shipping the poisonous waste to Africa or Asia and we can no longer afford to ignore education (and that includes art and music education) if we want to create a bright future. As Ken has pointed out many times, nobody can skip stages, but we can sure try to help the development along, maximize the speed and opportunity at which people can move upwards. Now everywhere is our backyard and everyone is our brother/sister.

4 Comments

  1. ~C4Chaos

    excellent commentary, Ottmar. i share your concerns. this also reflects Andrew Keen’s criticisms of Web 2.0. Habermas is critical of the Internet too.

    “Jon thinks that the next step in this chain from 4 networks to cable/sattelite to YouTube might be some kind of subscription to an editor or curator who emails his selections to customers.”

    this is already happening on the net via RSS feed. the trick is finding the right channels and people to trust. e.g. i watch more YouTube now than regular TV. i subscribe to <a href=”http://www.youtube.com/user/TEDtalksDirector”>TEDTalks Director</a> . i’m also interested on Psi, so i subscribe one of the leading experts in the field. Dean Radin’s blog.

    “So how would one go about it? One would have to have a beautiful and intuitive interface first of all. (What did you say on Friday, Colin? The most direct way between points A and B is the aesthetic solution? Something like that. Colin also mentioned that Ken Wilber and the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas are contributing new thoughts on the subject of editing or quality.) And no, a computer cannot create that network”

    i’m looking forward with what Wilber and Habermas will come up with. but i don’t agree that aesthetics is the key. not because a website is pretty or aesthetically pleasing makes it trustworthy. it’s like saying that we should judge the book by it’s cover. as Google have proven already, it’s simplicity, it’s the user experience, and the reliability and dependability overtime. read: reputation and trustworthiness. Google’s interface is not beautiful. Google is beautiful and elegant because it gets the job done better than most search other search services.

    the choices are indeed overwhelming. amateurs producing rubbish content are hijacking the bandwidth. all kinds of porn are just a query away. what are we to do? where does responsibility lie? well, the ideal answer is that the responsibility lie in all of us. it’s up to us to be mindful of the information we consume. it’s up to us to educate ourselves (read: media literacy). but the more realistic answer is that we need the techno-elites, the media-elites, the business-elites, the thinking-elites, the elites and curators of different bodies of knowledge (be it music, movies, arts, literature, etc…). the good news: they are already out there thinking up of solutions to aggregate information. the bad news: right now, it’s up to us to find them! the good news: the Internet makes it easy to find them! the bad news: most people don’t have the intentionality of finding them.

    i think what should happen more often is the other way around: the curators should step up beyond their traditional thinking and comfort zone and leverage “Web 2.0” technology to make themselves more findable. one thing i noticed is that, a lot of experts, scholars, etc. are those who are not using the technology of blogs, RSS, search-engine optimization, etc. they are as clueless as the masses when it comes to leveraging the technology. so that doesn’t help. case in point: look at the Journal of Consciousness Studies, the Esalen Center for Theory and Research, c’mon, no blogs, no RSS, no tags? and there are lots of scholarly sites still like that! then again, it could be related to funding, which is another long tangent.

    in summary, i’m in agreement with Peter Morville,

    “In all seriousness, I’d like to conclude with a cautionary note, that comes in response to Howard Rheingold’s recent book, Smart Mobs. In this highly entertaining and insightful text, we read about “thumb tribes,” gangs of teenagers and activists, connected in free-flowing networks via SMS text messaging on their cell phones. I hope that as ambient findability becomes reality, we are able to offset the inherent dangers of group think and mob justice by empowering literate individuals with the ability to find and recognize the truth, make informed decisions, and when necessary act independently. I believe librarians have an important role to play in leading us towards this more desirable future.”

    Reply
  2. Will

    Beauty is what you make it. Sounds so cliche, but it is correct. A person who can’t find beauty in something, may have never know what beauty was in the first place. It will never cease to exist.

    Reply
  3. ottmar

    Will: I think beauty and elegance have a language of their own and it helps to know the vocabulary. That’s what one is supposed to learn in Art and Music ed. Sadly some people never learn what beauty is in the first place. If they don’t see it it does not exist.

    Reply
  4. Anna

    Beauty comes from within, that sounds like a cliche. There are so many people who have beautiful souls, and everything about them is beautiful.
    Sadly a lot of people I’ve met base beautity on looks only.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Archives

Images