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Exoskeleton of the Microformat: Within You, Without you

Hand Exoskeleton

I often think of human-computer interaction (HCI) as the intersection of a language filled with ambiguity with a language purged of ambiguity. When we talk about the advance of the semantic web and microformats, I get this image of our language growing an exoskeleton. The code marking up our language attempts to disambiguate it, drain it of its natural state of overdetermination.


In his book, Muse in the Machine, Computerizing the Poetry of Human Thought, David Gelernter talks about how we think at various levels of focus. At high levels of focus we think most like a machine, we are goal directed and push ambiguity to the margins. We are solving problems and making connections within a highly reduced set of possibilities. At low levels of focus we think poetically, with dream imagery, making impossible connections. Any truly creative process involves both modes of thinking. As our language grows an exoskeleton, will we push our humanity and our poetry to the margins? Will we lose our sense of touch?

Meaning is perhaps both the illusion of a perfectly clear language combined with the deep ambiguity of life and truth. Language is both within you and without you.

We were talking – about the space between us all
And the people – who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion
Never glimpse the truth – then it’s far too late – when they pass away
And the time will come when you see we’re all one,and life flows on within you and without you

Published in culture digital hci language zettel