Tuesday, 27 September 2011
“Tolstoy’s sense of reality was until the end too devastating to be compatible with any moral ideal which he was able to construct out of the fragments into which his intellect shivered the world, and he dedicated all of his vast strength of mind and will to the lifelong denial of this fact. At once insanely proud and filled with self-hatred, omniscient and doubting everything, cold and violently passionate, contemptuous and self-abasing, tormented and detached, surrounded by an adoring family, by devoted followers, by the admiration of the entire civilised world, and yet almost wholly isolated, he is the most tragic of the great writers, a desperate old man, beyond human aid, wandering self-blinded at Colonus.” - Berlin, I. The Hedghog and the Fox: an essay on Tolstoy's view of history. Simon & Schuster, 1953. http://books.google.com/books?id=YClgAAAAMAAJ.
Wednesday, 7 September 2011
These are quoted from McLuhan's 1965 Gutenberg Galaxy, page 29-30 and point to some of my core research interests:
High development as it might appear to a native would not be accessible to our visual mode of awareness. We can get some idea of the attitude of the member of a tradition-directed society to technological improvements from a story related by Werner Heisenberg in The Physicist’s Conception of Nature. A modern physicist with his habit of “field” perception, and his sophisticated separation from our conventional habits of Newtonian space, easily finds in the pre-literate world a congenial kind of wisdom.
Heisenberg is discussing “science as a part of the interplay between man and Nature” (p. 20):
“In this connection it has often been said that far-reaching changes in our environment and in our way of life wrought by this technical age have also changed dangerously our ways of thinking, and that here lie the roots of the crises which have shaken our times and which, for instance, are also expressed in modern art. True, this objection is much older than modern technology and science, the use of implements going back to man’s earliest beginnings. Thus, two and a half thousand years ago, the Chinese sage Chuang-Tzu spoke of the danger of the machine when he said:‘As Tzu-Gung was travelling through the regions north of the River Han, he saw an old man working in his vegetable garden. He had dug in irrigation ditch. The man would descend into the well, fetch up a vessel of water in his arms and pour it out into the ditch. While his effort were tremendous the results appeared to be very meagre.
‘Tzu-Gung said, “There is a way whereby you can irrigate one hundred ditches in one day, and whereby you can do much with little effort. Would you not like to hear of it?” Then the Gardner stood up, looked at him and said, “And what would that be?”
‘Tzu-Gung replied, “You take a wooden lever, weighted at the back and light in the front. In this way you can bring up water so quickly that it just gushes out. This is called a draw-well.”
‘Then anger rose up in the old man’s face, and he said, “I have heard my teacher say that whoever uses machines does all his work like a machine. He who does his work like a machine grows a heart like a machine, and he who carries the heart of a machine in his breast loses his simplicity. He has lost his simplicity becomes unsure in the strivings of his soul. Uncertainty in the strivings of the soul is something which does not agree with honest sense. It is not that I do not know such things; I am ashamed to use them.”
All values apart, we must learn today that our electric technology has consequences for our most ordinary perceptions and habits of action which are quickly recreating in us the mental processes of the most primitive men. These consequences occur, not in our thoughts or opinions, where we are trained to be critical, but in our most ordinary sense life, which creates the vortices and matrices of thought and action.
Friday, 2 September 2011
At the bank yesterday, I executed a transaction that required the teller's manager to come to her computer and authorise it. I noticed how the manager was patient, the way she held her hands still without nervous energy, recognising this was something she was used to; being called over to authorise but on arrival finding that the teller was not quite in the right place / location in the system for the authorisation to take place.
When the teller was ready, the teller rolled her seat back a little and swivelled to the right a bit so she would not see what her manager was doing, presumably not to watch her type her password. But what I found very interesting was the positioning of the mouse, which was workable for the teller, but an obvious strain for the manager authorising the transaction. The manager had to manipulate the machine in a very physical way more than once to complete the awkward set of movements that culminated with the transaction being completed. I found myself thinking how inconvenient it was for the manager, how physically inconvenient and awkward, the way she has to contort her wrist and lean forward in order to perform this action which is certainly required of her on some regular interval.
Why hadn't this use case been taken into account? I thought about ways of distributing this authorisation so that the manager would not have had to get up at all. Or perhaps there could be a biometric reader that might not be so awkward as the point-and-click field navigation she appeared to have been struggling with. The overwhelming sense here was the sheer physicality of the electronic process. How is it, that these systems which promised to make work easier have in many cases convoluted everyday work practices?