summing up 76

i am trying to build a jigsaw puzzle which has no lid and is missing half of the pieces. i am unable to show you what it will be, but i can show you some of the pieces and why they matter to me. if you are building a different puzzle, it is possible that these pieces won't mean much to you, maybe they won't fit or they won't fit yet. then again, these might just be the pieces you're looking for. this is summing up, please find previous editions here.

Normal Considered Harmful, by Alan Kay

Normal is the greatest enemy with regard to creating the new. And the way of getting around this, is you have to understand normal, not as reality, but just a construct. And a way to do that, for example, is just travel to a lot of different countries – and you'll find a thousand different ways of thinking the world is real, all of which is just stories inside of people's heads. That's what we are too. Normal is just a construct – and to the extent that you can see normal as a construct inside yourself, you've freed yourself from the constraints of thinking this is the way the world is. Because it isn't. This is the way we are.

some very interesting points on the challenge of real innovation. this talk is probably best summarized by acknowledging that all understanding begins with not accepting the world as it appears. and this is very much true for the tools and products we use and create ourselves. alan kay's idea is quite big, and it is almost too big an idea to see and it is very hard to actually see it. part of the problem is that we have to make a distinction between the computer and computing as a technology and computers as a medium. only then we can come up with better ideas and solutions.

When U.S. air force discovered the flaw of averages, by Todd Rose

The consensus among fellow air force researchers was that the vast majority of pilots would be within the average range on most dimensions. After all, these pilots had already been pre-selected because they appeared to be average sized. The scientists also expected that a sizable number of pilots would be within the average range on all 10 dimensions. But they were stunned when they tabulated the actual number.

Zero. There was no such thing as an average pilot. If you’ve designed a cockpit to fit the average pilot, you’ve actually designed it to fit no one.

By discarding the average as their reference standard, the air force initiated a quantum leap in its design philosophy, centred on a new guiding principle: individual fit. Rather than fitting the individual to the system, the military began fitting the system to the individual. In short order, the air force demanded that all cockpits needed to fit pilots whose measurements fell within the 5-per-cent to 95-per-cent range on each dimension.

every time my clients talk about the user, or the average user i get an uneasy feeling. you see, there is no average user. and every time you design your product for an average user you similarly designed it to fit no one. so how do we get out of this dilemma? the first approach might be user research done right (jobs to be done is an interesting approach), the latter might be products which adapt to the user's current level of knowledge and experience. the idea here being quite simple: user experience is a moving target. and as we use a product and improve our understanding of it, the user interface should adapt and improve as well.

The Surrender of Culture to Technology, by Neil Postman

Every technology has an inherent bias, has both unique technical limitations and possibilities. That is to say every technology has embedded in its physical form a predisposition to it being used in certain ways and not others. Only those who know nothing of the history of technology believe that a technology is entirely neutral or adaptable. In other words each technology has an agenda of its own and so to speak gives us instructions on how to fulfil its own technical destiny. We have to understand that fact but we must not and especially we must not underestimate it. Of course we need not be tyrannized by it, we do not always have to go in exactly the direction that a technology leads us toward going. We have obligations to ourselves that may supersede our obligations to any technology

i see neil postman as one of the best media and technology critics of our time. his basic gist is quite simple: we have to become aware of the environments we live in and how we and our understanding of the world adapt to it without being aware of the process. in his talk he poses the following seven questions, with the argument that questions are more important than answers. because answers change over time and different circumstances even for the same person, while questions endure:

  • what is the problem to which a technology claims to be a solution?
  • whose problem is it?
  • what new problems will be created because of solving an old one?
  • which people and institutions will be most harmed?
  • what changes in language are being promoted?
  • what shifts in economic and political power are likely to result?
  • what alternative media might be made from a technology?

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My letters are about long-lasting, sustainable change that fundamentally amplify our human capabilities and raise our collective intelligence through generations. Would love to have you on board.