Archive for December, 2008

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Forgiveness and Reconciliation

The discussion of Rick Warren’s participation in the inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States has stirred up a number of thoughts. These ideas were given more focus by listening to an episode of Philosophy Bites on Derrida’s idea of forgiveness:

While Derrida says that national reconciliation is a separate matter, forgiveness itself, is worth some serious thought. In short, Derrida’s thoughts of forgiveness run as follows. A forgiveness that has no cost, is not worth much. It is forgiving the unforgivable that is the essence of the act. And also seemingly impossible to accomplish; it asks us to do the undoable.

This is a very disturbing idea because it seems to run counter to the idea of justice, or at least a rough form of justice. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth – these practices can lead to an infinite negative feedback loop. For a change to occur, one side must do the impossible.

Human Factors

Someone asked, looking at the statues in the Greek and Roman section of the Met, why there were so many bodies without heads, and heads without bodies. Turns out there was a time when Christians took a fancy to knocking the heads off of statues. Power shifted, paradigms shifted– Christianity moved from the margin to the center; from a form of atheism to the primary form of theism.

There’s a particular humanity and sense of personality that is still transmitted from these faces. A connection is still possible, even across the centuries. These artifacts, even with the ravages of time, radiate meaning. Contrast that with the digital artifact, once corrupted– it becomes unreadable.

Imagine a culture that encoded all of its artifacts in digital media. Then think about a power shift where the new authority erased the digital artifacts of its predecessor. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for power to imagine its end. We assume that what exists will continue to exist. What tools will the archeologist of the future require to unearth the digital culture that we’re creating today?

The Ephemeral and The Artifact

Phillipe de Montebello

Curatorial expertise is the Metropolitan’s most valuable currency.

Philipe de Montebello

After spending hours in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, your mind spins. So much taken in, so much to process, to sort through, to connect up, to start whole new trains of thought. The items kept and displayed in the Met are often exemplars of their type.

Woman Seen From The Back

But as Montebello notes, it’s the ability of the curator to find a particular item, a painting, a cultural artifact and tell a coherent story about it; to connect that story to the others floating around the culture in which the object was embedded. The value of the curator’s thought and writing ensures that the objects in the collection have value and that the value continues to grow and deepen.

Compare this to the value of the digital object. While our understanding of a digital work can grow in depth, can the artifact itself actually grow in value? The digital object’s relationship with time has been one of depreciation, its existence ephemeral. The business of the digital has been managing a downward slope toward commoditization, and ultimately a price of zero (Of course there are strategies of renewal).

Will the digital object ever have the same investment characteristcs as the items in the Metropolitan’s collection? In the Computer History Museum, the collection is comprised mostly of the physical computers– the software isn’t much to look at. While Jonathan Ive’s designs will certainly earn a place at the Cooper-Hewitt, will there be a day when we will see digital objects in a physical building like the Metropolitan Museum? If there is such a thing as a digital art object it may displace the Museum. Is there a reason to view such a work in such a place? The digital object can only be viewed in a digital venue. Unlike the artifacts in the Met, the digital object is not unique. It’s always a copy, it can always find its way to you through the Network.  And the most valuable currency in establishing a collection? Curatorial expertise.

The Form of the Question: The Form of the Answer

To what extent does the question establish the possible ground from which an answer can emerge? Does the shape of the question determine the shape of the answer? What happens when the question doesn’t match the subject?

Search is a query against a fixed set of data. To achieve depth the volume of data must be enormous. What happens when you search a real time stream? It’s a batch query against a stream of data. There are two common examples:

  • Getting a quote on a stock during market hours on a 15-minute delayed basis
  • Getting a quote on a stock during market hours on a real-time basis

Each is just a snapshot;  a moment in time. The 15-minute delayed quote isn’t information you can trade on. The moment for action has long since passed. The real-time quote is almost time you can trade on– but it’s still just a snapshot. A trader has a live quote that changes as trades hit the consolidated tape. The quote changes in real time without an additional query. The live quote gives additional color, one has a sense of the volatility and direction of price.

Map of the Market

Now think about the difference between search and track. with regard to Tw*tter and the micro-messaging stream. If you’ve ever used track via IM you’ve experienced the difference between a snap quote and a live quote. Imagine if you had a watchlist of your track terms that you could see change in real time. A trader can transact on any ticker she tracks– that means both reading and writing. This gives you a sense of some of the possible user interfaces, as well as the economics, of the micro-messaging stream.

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