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Category: education

Modern Hieroglyphics: Writing Fluidly in a Picture Language


What must the world be like in order for a person to understand what the phrase “copy and paste” means? As we look about us, we can distinguish between those things that can be “copied and pasted,” and those things that cannot. That bunch of flowers growing in the pot in my garden cannot be copied. I can grow similar flowers, but I can’t grow identical flowers.

While mechanical reproduction at the industrial level creates many seemingly identical products, the pen I write with, or the coffee mug from which I’m sipping– these things cannot be “copied and pasted.” As we continue to look about, our inclination would be to skip directly to the digital; for surely that’s the world from which “copy and paste” comes. But in our haste, we would be passing over vast continents.

“Copy and paste” makes sense to us because its most common usage is not digital. Its basis is in our language– both spoken and written. Language, words, can be quoted. I can copy a phrase, a prayer, a poem, a joke, a hint, an expression of emotion that I overhear somewhere and paste it into my speech. I can copy something identically, or I can make it my own by saying something similar. Our laws regarding copyright establish a legal and economic framework for the copying of language.

One of our primary activities as humans is to pass along news. “What’s going on in the world of politics today?” We scan through all the news we’ve consumed during the day– copying and pasting to create the story we want to tell. The filtering that takes place as we scan is both the discovery and creation of the value of information in the context of specific audiences.

As we turn to the digital, the obvious first stop is the editing program– the word processor. This tool augmented our ability to copy and paste text, to rearrange it, to treat it as a plastic medium. There’s a kind of flow to building and constructing that text editors make possible. Think about the much more mechanical process involved with using a fountain pen, typewriter, scissors and a glue pot.

The metaphor of editing has been extended to image, video and sound manipulation; and if we think about it, to the local file system itself. The desktop is an editor for pointers to files– here also, we copy, paste and delete. It’s with that editor that we’ve created ambiguity around the ownership status of digital media.

To preserve a particular economic algorithm, there’s an attempt to limit the file-system editor’s ability to “copy and paste” certain kinds of files. These kinds of limitations don’t exist with any other editor. Imagine a text editor that was prohibited from copying and pasting copyrighted material. Imagine a language that didn’t allow quotation.

When Ray Ozzie surfaced for a moment before being consumed by the organizational, political and directional turmoil of Microsoft, he developed and demo’d “copy and paste” at the level of the web. Live Clipboard was aimed at employing a simple metaphor for moving microformatted data from one place to another. Programs like Evernote allow me to copy sections of a web page with very loose HTML formatting, and paste them into my digital notebooks. In the world of social media we look at the social graph we’ve built and we’d like to copy it from this service and paste it into that service. Instead we find ourselves in the position of Medieval monk copying a manuscript with a quill pen.

We capture our thoughts and impressions through text, we scribble it in notebooks, we type it on sheets of paper and on to glowing screens. Our text becomes hypertext and the exoskeleton of structured markup encapsulates our language. Capturing sound, image and video used to be the province of professionals, but now most “telephones” can do this. Body language, gestures and intonation can now provide color to the messages we pass back and forth.

This is the point in time we need the pencil that Marc Canter created. Copy and paste are functions of an editor and they operate on pointers and abstractions to the world around us. We now have the Network and bandwidth to return to early days of multimedia and the toolsets that were developed for the production of CD-ROMs.

On the professional end, these tools have become more and more sophisticated. Apple has done a nice job providing tools for the consumer. Where Brian Eno had the insight that the recording studio could be a compositional tool, we now need a recording studio we can carry around with us and that resides on our (i)Phones. An initial model is the way the Flip Video Camera includes editing software on the hardware device. As we capture sound, narration, and still/moving images with our “telephones,” we need to be able to dash off a note in a picture/sound language. That device we carry around should be able to read, write and transmit over the Network. Actually, it already can. It already does. But there’s so much more.

Of course, literacy will always be an issue. But that’s why there are pirates:


Sometimes I dream of a digital Chautauqua

Chautauqua Tent

Sometimes I dream of a digital Chautauqua that crosses over and travels in a tent show around the land. I think about Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble, or the Willoz’s Chautauqua. I haven’t quite figured out how the Chautauqua on the network connects to the Chautauqua in the tent or the barn— but the two should be deeply intertwingled.

Enjoy Chautautqua

As I think about what the next big thing on the Web will be, I can’t help thinking about the next small thing. I imagine it will look like a digital Chautauqua, a unique performance that will exist for just a moment in time. It’s participants will be witnesses. Can I get a witness?

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Politics of Change • Economics of Change • Value of Change

Al Gore

It’s an interesting question. Who has more power to affect climate change: the President of the United States or a new partner at Kleiner Perkins. One way to create change is to make new laws. Another way is to create economic incentives and fund creativity in the business world. Al Gore spent a lot of time trying to change things using the political system, now he’s trying another method. Political solutions always seem to involve sacrifice and high cost to the economy. When a new venture is funded, the expectation is that it’s going to be successful and make money. The fact that it’s a green venture doesn’t make a bit of difference.

It’s a different kind of grass roots politics that Gore’s practicing now. He’s building a constituency in the business world, and by creating value (doing well and doing good) he’ll change more minds than by fighting with politicians. That is, he will if he can show that his portfolio companies can make a buck or two. It’s a large bet, and a very optimistic bet, on the future of human endeavours.

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Mahalo and Searching for Healthcare

Red Cross

Microsoft has launched “Healthvault,” a private archive for personal medical data. Google, sans Bosworth, is trying to figure out how to connect people searching for health information with quality results. Both of these are very serious approaches to a serious issue.

I’m wondering if it’s Mahalo that has the right approach. Calacanis is focusing on the top 20,000 searches— which fills the front page of Mahalo with celebrity gossip, gadgets, music, television, movies, etc. Stuff that’s obviously popular. It’s a little like the People Magazine of search. “People” started as a single page in Time Magazine, it was like dessert. Time realized some people like dessert all the time.

Mahalo does some nice “How to” pages, for instance How to speak French, or How to play the Guitar. Mahalo is mostly for searching and finding the fun part of the internet, elective studies. But what about serious things like health? Well there’s more in the Mahalo health category than I would have thought. The Cancer category has decent set of pages. Currently you can search and find information a large number of healthcare topics, from autism to West Nile Virus. The topic of healthcare is particularly suited to Calacanis’s idea of search results shaped by a smart person. When an individual searches for health information, they’re not looking for a list of links. They’re looking for answers.

Note to Jason: let’s see some more “How to” pages in your healthcare category. The concept and format of your SERPs gives you an order of magnitude advantage over Google’s method of delivering information. The key here is the emotional charge of the search. Of course there’s a charge when people search for gossip about their favorite celebrity, but there’s also a very serious emotional charge when you search for information when you, or someone you love, has an illness and you need guidance.

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