T H E  N E T W O R K  O B S E R V E R

  VOLUME 3, NUMBER 4                                    APRIL 1996


     "You have to organize, organize, organize, and build and
      build, and train and train, so that there is a permanent,
      vibrant structure of which people can be part."

          -- Ralph Reed, Christian Coalition


  This month: From librarians to communitarians
              Methods for spontaneous noticing
              Toward a universal event calendar


  Welcome to TNO 3(4).

  This month I begin a two-part series on the future of libraries.
  Right now is a good time to be thinking about this, as experience
  accumulates from "digital library" research projects.  A great
  deal is at stake: we can just digitize everything as fast as
  possible, or we can back up and rethink how people think together
  and how technology could possibly help.  The consequences for
  librarians are particularly serious: on the first scenario their
  jobs get smaller as the ideal of public access to information
  gets narrowed into a technical question; on the second scenario
  their jobs get bigger as we use technology in new ways to support
  the diverse needs of different communities.

  I've also included a peculiar article about an experiment that
  my friends and I conducted many years ago at MIT.  We felt,
  and I still feel, that technical work -- at least as it has
  been organized historically -- incorporates a distinctive way
  of thinking that can separate us from our experience of our own
  lives.  We wanted to reverse this effect, both for our own good
  and to help us develop better technical ideas.  Here I describe
  what we did, and what happened.  I think that our experiences
  suggest the outlines of a teachable skill that can actually make
  people smarter.

  A footnote.  The Internet is heavily burdened with myths, many
  of which I have already discused in TNO.  But none of these myths
  astounds me more than the idea that the Internet owes its success
  to free enterprise.  At practically every public debate about it
  Internet, it seems, someone gets up during the question period
  (if not on the panel itself) and launches into a rant about
  how entrepreneurial foresight and freedom built up the Internet
  and now the government is coming in to regulate it.  This
  word "regulate" is often spoken with a constricted throat and
  slow-motion hand gestures that look like the speaker is grabbing
  at or throttling something.  The problem, of course, is that
  the Internet was a government program from the beginning, and
  was almost exclusively government-supported for most of its
  life.  The vision for the Internet came from some guys within
  the military who were influenced not by the methods of industry
  vendors, with their closed proprietary standards, but by the
  methods of the scientific community, with its desire for openly 
  shared information.  As the Arpanet grew and became the Internet,
  they saw correctly that a network based on strong principles of
  interoperability would powerfully support both an open society
  and a strong economy.  The mythology to the contrary is nowhere
  more confusing than in the case of the Communications Decency
  Act, which is willy-nilly ascribed to a nebulous bogey called
  "the government" -- or just "government" -- without any serious
  analysis of who the various players are both inside and outside
  the workings of the state.  This most recently came home to me in
  one of the reports from Declan McCullagh on the ACLU v Reno trial
  in Philadelphia.  With the trial under way, the point is to guess
  the judges' views from their questions and comments.  Describing
  one of the judges, Stewart Dalzell, and his interaction with one
  of the ACLU's expert witnesses, Scott Bradner, he says:

    Dalzell has a keen sense of humor and seems sympathetic to
    our arguments. In fact, I'd guess he's been doing some out-
    of-court web-surfing himself. In an _astounding_ question
    at the end of the day, he asked Bradner: "Isn't it true that
    the exponential and incredible growth of the Internet came
    about because the government kept their hands off of it?"

    Bradner gladly agreed. (What else would he say?)

  For one thing, he could have told the truth.  Declan has done
  plenty of good things for the cause of free speech, but in this
  particular case he is repeating some of the most thoughtless cant
  of the Internet advocacy movement.  Let's get real.  "Government"
  is neither good nor bad as an abstraction.  Government is a field
  over which different forces conflict, in which different sets of
  values become entrenched and then dislodged, and in which psycho-
  pathic ambition jostles cheek-by-jowl with people who work long
  hours in crummy conditions for low pay because they believe
  in the principle of public service.  This is called democracy,
  and it's pretty good.  It works when the people make it work,
  and when they understand it rather than generalizing wildly about
  it.  "Government" didn't cause the CDA; the CDA was caused by
  the fund-raising imperatives of an authoritarian social movement
  that loses nothing by proposing hare-brained solutions to social
  problems because it can so readily tar anybody who speaks out
  against it with the broad brush of a nebulous enemy of its own.


  The end of information and the future of libraries.

  My work is thinking about basic ideas of technology in ways that
  let us see them as products of social processes, and as part of
  social processes.  For example, computing has very particular
  ideas about how to represent human activities.  These ideas have
  histories.  They could be different, and they have significant
  consequences for privacy.

  Let us consider another basic idea of computing, information.
  We all think we know what information is.  Computer people and
  librarians both define their work in relation to something they
  call information.  But I want to suggest that information might
  be an obsolete concept, and that emerging technologies are
  yelling in our ears to move along to other, different ideas.

  What is information?  We can define it in a narrow technical
  way.  Shannon defined one notion of information in his theory
  of the capacity of a communications channel; information for
  him is measured in bits, and each bit is a distinction that
  is meaningful to the parties on each end of the channel.
  Bateson said something similar when he defined information
  as differences that make a difference.  Computer people
  often speak of information in terms of the states of digital
  circuits that represent binary states of affairs in the world.

  In each case, information is an idea that builds a bridge
  between the states of artifacts and meanings in people's lives.
  We often hear that this is an information age, or an information
  revolution, or that information rather than capital is now
  driving the global economy.  It is not at all clear what any of
  this means.  I think that in practice we tell three stories to
  ourselves about information.  Each story profoundly affects our
  thinking by encoding particular views us about the relationship
  between designers, information users, and information itself.  I
  will refer to these stories as information processing, masculine
  transcendentalism, and information professionalism.

  (1) Information processing

  Computers originate in automation; "computer" was originally
  a job title, not a machine.  Early computing methodologies
  were modeled on industrial automation methods -- a flowchart
  is really an industrial process chart.  When you hear the phrase
  information processing, therefore, I want you also to hear
  phrases like food processing and sand and gravel processing.
  Information, according to this story, is an industrial material
  like corn or oil or metal.

  The information processing story assigns particular roles to
  designers, users, and information:

   designers - industrial engineers
   users - factory machines
   information - processed material

  (2) masculine transcendentalism

  I take this marvelous phrase, masculine transcendentalism, from
  the historian of technology David Noble.  We can see masculine
  transcendentalism at work in Wired magazine, or in all of the
  hype around artificial intelligence or virtual reality.  The
  story is this: someday soon, the physical world is going to
  wither away.  Everything is going to become digital.  All of our
  minds will be downloaded onto machines.  All of our books and
  paintings will move into digital media.  We will no longer have
  bodies, and most amazingly of all, we will work in the paperless
  office.  Noble's brilliant insight is that this is a religious
  worldview, and his historical research demonstrates compellingly
  that it developed *out of* a religious worldview without any
  particular discontinuity along the way.  It is a millenarian
  worldview in that it posits a perfect future in which everything
  will be transformed.  It is a transcendental worldview in that
  it calls for the whole world to be raised up and dissolved into
  incorporeal realm that leaves the body and all the messy stuff
  in the social world behind.  It sounds funny and hyperbolic when
  you frame it this way, but it is an enormously influential way
  of speaking in industry and elsewhere.

  Here, then, are the basic relationships posited by masculine

   designers - prophets
   users - caught up in an inevitable rapture
   information - the fabric of heaven

  (3) information professionalism

  Information professionalism is a story that both computer people
  and librarians tell, but I want to focus on the librarians'
  version here.  This story goes: we are professionals; there is
  this stuff called information; and our professional expertise
  consists of managing large bodies of information and connecting
  people with information.  These professionals are generalists,
  or specialized at most to very broad areas, and libraries treat
  very disparate kinds of stuff in the same way.  This view is
  understandable when you have a dozen librarians in a library
  building, and they are buying, cataloguing, and managing
  information that a hundred different kinds of people are using.
  The librarians need to routinize their work, and they need highly
  rationalized, detailed procedures so that the product of their
  work -- a catalog, for example -- is uniform and so that this
  product can be produced efficiently.  Libraries have themselves
  been factories in many ways -- thousands of books just have
  to get catalogued.  None of this is a criticism of librarians,
  who have been working within the constraints of particular
  technologies and institutions.

  Here, then, are the relationships that the information
  professionalism story posits:

   designers - professionals
   users - individuals with information needs
   information - homogenous stuff to be stored and retrieved

  I do believe that information technology is contributing to a
  major change in the world, but I think that this is precisely
  a change that makes each of these stories obsolete.  The old-
  fashioned factory story is already under heavy attack -- we've
  automated an awful lot of tasks already, and the resulting
  machinery requires a lot of skill and expertise to use.  But it
  is striking that we haven't often questioned this view in the
  context of information.

  Masculine transcendentalism, for its part, is really one of those
  yesterday's tomorrows, like the Jetsons.  If we look at what is
  really happening in the world, we see information technology as
  a nervous system for the physical world, not as a replacement for
  it.  (See, for example, TNO 1(5).)

  But it's information professionalism that I really want to
  focus on.  The problem with information professionalism is
  really a problem that the others share underneath: it treats
  information as a homogenous substance.  A good way to think
  about information is that it's the professional object of
  librarianship.  Every profession has its object: for law
  everything is a case, for medicine everything is a disease,
  and for librarianship everything is information.  In each case,
  someone walks in the door with a problem, and the professional's
  job is to find their object in that problem, and to talk about
  the problem in a way that makes it sound like a case, a disease,
  or information that can be compared with other cases, other
  diseases, or other information.

  There's a deep trade-off: each profession achieves generality by
  reducing everything to a common denominator, leveling everything
  to common terms.  Each profession can help everyone, but they
  cannot help them very well.  Library materials are indexed in a
  very sophisticated way -- certainly much more sophisticated than
  the keyword searches that prevail on the Internet -- but it is
  one uniform indexing scheme, despite the many different places
  that different patrons might be coming from in their lives.

  We can think about solving this problem by using information
  technology to support several different coding schemes, and I
  think this is a good thing to do.  But I want to back up and
  suggest a more radical approach.  Let's get beyond the stories
  we have told ourselves about information and tell different
  stories about different sorts of objects.

  I want to suggest that the defining feature of our new world
  is that people talk to each other, a lot, routinely, across
  distances, by several media.  It makes no sense any more to
  ask how individuals use information.  Instead, let us ask how
  communities conduct their collective cognition.  Let's define
  a community, as per TNO 2(7), as a set of people who occupy
  analogous structural locations in society.  The residents
  of Palo Alto are a community, but so are cancer patients,
  corporate librarians, and people who are in the market to buy
  any particular sort of product.  Emerging technologies allow
  communities to think together.  The fact that cancer patients
  can think together is already turning medicine inside-out.  The
  fact that customers in computer-related markets talk intensively
  to one another on the Internet is increasing the amount and
  variety of information in the marketplace.  The future, in my
  view, belongs not to information but to this active process of
  collective cognition in communities.

  It might be objected that we will always have libraries
  and bookstores, and they will still be full of information.
  But that's not the best way to look at it.  The first thing
  that library cataloguing schemes lose is the dialogic nature
  of articles and books: they are all turns in a conversation,
  responding to a particular literature or cultural background
  and addressed to a particular audience.  Every community conducts
  its collective cognition through diverse mechanisms, from rumors
  to conferences to newsletters to wandering bards to Internet
  mailing lists to articles and books.  The library is one window
  on this whole dynamic interplay, but it is not a window that
  lets us see that dynamic interplay very clearly.  Perhaps it is
  an artificial window, a means to serve a subset of "information
  needs" that is largely an accident of past technologies and
  institutions.  Many different kinds of energy pass through
  the library, but the library reduces them all to information
  retrieval, a homogenous category that it can work with.

  The solution, I think, is not to pave the cowpaths by automating
  the institutions we have now.  Instead, I think we should explore
  the full range of means by which we can support the collective
  cognition of communities.  Every community has its own mix of
  communications mechanisms, its own history and institutions, its
  own symbols and vocabularies, its own typified activities, its
  own constellation of relationships, and perhaps most importantly,
  as TNO 2(11) suggests, its own genres of communicative materials.
  If we want a focal concept to replace information, we might
  want to choose genres.  Genres are stable, expectable forms of
  communication that are well-fitted to certain roles in the life
  of some particular communities.  Business memos, opinion columns,
  action-adventure movies, Interstate Highway signs, business
  cards, and talking-head TV political shows all have stable forms
  that evolve to serve needs in the midst of particular activities.

  I don't think we should be automating information professionals
  out of business.  Quite the contrary, I think we should be
  giving them a bigger job: reaching out to support the collective
  cognition of particular communities.  This might include systems
  to support the creation, circulation, and transformation of
  particular genres of materials.  It might include setting up and
  configuring mailing lists or other, more sophisticated tools for
  shared thinking.  It might include both face-to-face and remote
  assistance.  Distributed alliances of librarians might support
  specific distributed communities, while comparing notes with one
  another and sharing tools.

  This view has many consequences.  It follows, for example,
  that a digital library isn't one big system but a federation of
  potentially quite different systems, each embracing a range of
  functionalities and fitting into people's lives in potentially
  quite different ways.

  It also follows that each community will have, to some extent,
  its own infrastructure with its own evolution.  Standards are
  crucial.  Tools for shared thinking work best when everyone is
  using them, and so supporting a community's transition to new
  tools will require consensus-building, well-timed coordination,
  training, and a shifting division of labor between professional
  librarians -- or, as we might start calling them, communitarians
  -- and mutual aid and self-help among a community's members.  No
  more factories, no more millenarian fantasies, no more isolated
  information warehouses.  Instead, perhaps, we might be able
  to build, and help other people to build, the interconnected
  pluralistic society that we so badly need.


  A story about noticing.

  In graduate school I worked in artificial intelligence.  I had
  chosen to study AI from adolescent sorts of motives: it seemed
  cool at the time.  Along the way, though, I started to grow up.
  This is never easy, but my lack of a broad liberal education
  made it much harder.  In studying AI, I became socialized into
  a distinctive way of thinking and using language that made it
  hard to think anything else.  I gradually emerged from the AI
  worldview by a peculiar route.  AI people have frequently used
  informal introspection to guide their model-building.  Together
  with some friends, I tried something similar but (as it turned
  out) importantly different, and the results were remarkable if
  difficult to communicate.  I think the story is worth telling,
  both because of the intrinsic value of the research methods we
  developed and because of the larger lessons we might learn about
  technical thinking and technical work.

  Many linguists and others have noticed an interesting phenomenon:
  if you spend a good part of your workday studying a certain
  formal aspect of human life -- say, a certain grammatical form
  -- then you will start spontaneously noticing examples of it
  in your life outside of your research.  Many linguists collect
  the examples they notice this way, making themselves nuisances
  at dinner parties when they suddenly point out the unusual
  phrase construction of someone's previous utterance.  But we
  had never heard of anybody actually making this phenomenon into
  a deliberate strategy of research.  That's what we tried to do.

  Our basic motivation was our belief that AI's ways of talking
  about people's lives were wildly at odds with the reality of
  those lives.  But this was a hard argument to make, since AI
  regularly proceeds by making up little stories that sound like
  plausible things that could happen in real life while also
  corresponding conveniently to the capacities of particular
  technical schemes.  How could we show that these types of stories
  misrepresented everyday life (i.e., real, genuine, authentic
  everyday life and not the fictional constructions of it in AI
  papers)?  Could we show that such things *never* happened?  That
  they were atypical of everyday life in some statistical sense?

  The only way to begin, we thought, was to start collecting real
  stories of everyday life.  But how to select these stories?  We
  shot several videotapes of people as they made dinner, but then
  we decided that we weren't about to invent a coding scheme to
  categorize an hour of complicated videotape.  This, then, was
  the attraction of the spontaneously noticed stories: they were
  relevant to the theoretical issues that interested us, and we
  didn't have to undertake any special effort to gather them beyond
  remembering to write them down.  It will no doubt be objected
  that we couldn't remember the stories accurately.  But keep in
  mind that our baseline was the (most commonly) totally fictional
  stories of AI papers; if anything the biases of reconstructive
  memory would bring the real stories back into line with that
  sort of artificial neatness.  And we were only after heuristic
  stimulation, not hard data in any traditional sense.

  Through much trial and error we developed a methodology.  The
  first step is choosing a broad category of real-life situations
  that you're interested in, let us say "mistakes".  Now, it turns
  out that "mistakes" is far too abstract and general to provoke
  much noticing.  But let's say that we notice a particular mistake
  and take the trouble to write it out.  For example, last night
  I was using an automatic teller machine and twice hit too many
  zeroes when entering amounts with the keyboard.  To provoke the
  noticing of further such events, it turns out to be crucial to
  (1) write out the story from memory in extreme detail, as much
  detail as you can remember, and then (2) invent a category
  that includes this story but is half as abstract -- let us say,
  mistakes caused by trying to do something repetitive too fast,
  or even mistakes caused by trying to do something repetitive too
  fast and doing one too many -- and then write out an explanation
  of that category into one's notebook.  We referred to this second
  step as "intermediation", since it involved the invention of
  a category that is intermediate in its abstraction between the
  existing abstract category and the specific concrete example
  at hand.  It doesn't matter whether you formulate this category
  "correctly" -- different people would no doubt formulate it
  in different ways.  What matters is the act of formulating it,
  explaining to yourself in writing how it subsumes the example,
  and explaining to yourself in writing how the more abstract
  category subsumes it in turn.

  Intermediation is a sure-fire way to provoke noticing.  The
  effect is amazing.  What's really amazing is what happens if you
  make a habit of it.  We spent an hour or two every day writing
  out episodes that we had noticed and intermediating from them.
  The more we did this, the more episodes we would notice.  After a
  while we learned that we could deliberately "steer" our noticing
  in one direction or another, depending on what theoretical
  questions we were interested in -- just choose the aspect of the
  new episode that interests you most and define an intermediate
  category appropriately.  With this method we can investigate a
  given category of phenomena in much more detail and complexity
  than we could by just collecting anecdotes (already a common
  method in psychology).  After a while you'll accumulate what
  mathematicians call a "lattice" -- a structure defined by a
  partial order, in this case the order "is a more general category
  than".  It helps if you can draw the lattice on a sheet of paper.

  You may ask, what earthly use is this?  We found it fabulously
  useful as a way to establish contact between abstract theories
  and empirical reality.  It is similar in this regard to
  ethnography or other kinds of qualitative description.  It is
  less appealing in that it doesn't seek a thick theorization of
  its materials, but on the other hand it grounds the concepts
  in one's own subjectivity as spontaneously noticed and not in
  the systematically observed behavior of someone else.  I find
  it hard to explain except to say that I found it compelling and
  kept doing it, as I say, for a few years.

  Let me describe a particular observation we made using the
  method.  For a while we used it to explore a particular theory
  invented by my friend David Chapman, called "semantic cliches".
  Semantic cliches are simple formal structures that seem to
  recur frequently in the world's ideas.  Mostly they correspond
  to simple mathematical structures.  Take for example the notion
  of a total order: a structure consisting of a set of entities
  and a relation on them, such that every pair of entities which
  are different from one another has a "greater" or a "lesser"
  according to the relation.  Examples are endless in the folk
  theories of the world: temperature, loudness, smartness, hotness,
  powerfulness, etc.  The point isn't that the *reality* has that
  structure but that the *ideas* have that structure, though of
  course the relationship between the ideas and reality is probably
  not arbitrary.  In his paper on semantic cliches -- which, true
  to the culture of the lab where we did our graduate work, was
  only published as an internal lab report -- David identified
  a few dozen of these cliches.  Another one is propagation: you
  have a mathematical graph, and one of the vertices has a certain
  property at a certain time, and then this property spreads out
  across the arcs of the graph to successively broader sets of
  vertices.  You can refine the cliches to make them more specific
  (once again, in a lattice).  So for example, one kind of total
  order is a finite totally ordered set, which of course will have
  a greatest and a least element.

  We were studying semantic cliches, then, and this caused us to
  notice things in the world that were examples of the particular
  semantic cliches we were studying.  So of course we set about
  intermediating the various semantic cliches and the various
  other concepts associated with the semantic cliches.  Along
  the way we discovered a great many examples of semantic cliches,
  based on episodes we noticed in which one or another property
  of them was at stake.  And more interestingly, we started
  noticing lots of analogies between different parts of life that
  we did not formerly think of as analogous.  More interestingly
  still, we noticed our lives start changing rapidly -- not in
  deep, meaningful ways, but in lots and lots of small, simple,
  logistical sorts of ways.  For a long time we thought that we
  had discovered a previously undetected phenomenon: the continual
  evolution of the most ordinary routines of daily life.  And so
  we set about intermediating on the category of routine evolution.
  This was what my dissertation was originally going to be about,
  until I got derailed by the immense difficulty of using AI's
  technical concepts to build anything that has any genuine
  relationship to people's everyday lives.

  In any case, we eventually discovered that the routine evolution
  we were noticing had various components -- that is, a variety of
  qualitatively different mechanisms of change -- and that the most
  productive of these components was being induced by our method
  of investigation.  That is, the cycle of noticing, writing down
  stories, intermediating, and noticing again was causing our lives
  to change.  Why?  Precisely because the various categories, and
  most especially the semantic cliches, were mediating numerous
  analogies in our heads.  Now, if you've read the literature on
  analogical reasoning (and particularly if you've read Jean Lave's
  critique of it in "Cognition in Practice") then you're aware
  that people only really make experience-distant formal analogies
  when their attention is somehow brought to the analogy.  Their
  attention can be directed in several ways: experimenters can
  point out the analogy, metaphors or other linguistic means can be
  used to draw the analogous situations under a common description,
  printed forms or other mediating artifacts can be used to
  structure the situations within a common form of activity,
  and so on.  Some of these means might be consciously aimed at
  causing people to notice analogies.  Others might be fortuitous,
  or might be part of a culture's more deeply meaningful set of
  metaphors and categorizations, or whatever.  In our case, our
  attention was drawn to the analogies because we were deliberately
  using a certain abstract vocabulary to describe the forms
  of everyday events, and the common vocabulary we assigned to
  otherwise dissimilar situations was causing us to spontaneously
  notice analogies between them.  These analogies, moreover, were
  frequently causing us to notice slightly better ways to do things
  that we already did in basically acceptable ways on a routine
  basis everyday.

  Let me give you an example.  We had an acetyline torch in
  our kitchen that was operated by a trigger that generated
  a piezoelectric spark.  I often used this torch in the dark.
  Don't ask why.  The problem was that the torch only worked when
  a certain knob, which turned to one of perhaps four positions,
  was turned to the second position.  For a long time I would
  have to squint at the knob in the darkness to see if it was
  in the right position.  Eventually, somehow, I came up with
  the idea of turning the knob all the way to its counterclockwise
  limit and then turning it one notch clockwise, after which I could
  guarantee that it would be in the second position.  Well, it so
  happened that a few days later I was in a car with an automatic
  transmission, shifting back and forth between drive and reverse
  repeatedly to get out of a tight parking space while pedestrians
  kept jumping between cars trying to get me to break their legs.
  Whereupon *poof* I noticed the analogy with the torch and started
  whacking the shifter into park and then one notch right into
  reverse rather than looking at the shifter and clunking it two
  notches to the left each time I shifted from drive into reverse.

  I'm quite sure that the semantic cliche of a finite total
  order mediated this analogy.  Why am I sure of this?  Because
  I was quite conscious of it at the time.  Why did I *notice*
  and think to write down the fact that the analogy was mediated
  by a semantic cliche?  Yes, that's right, because I had been
  intermediating on the phenomena of analogical transfer through
  intermediated categories.  By that time it had grown quite
  common for noticings to trigger other noticings to three or four
  deep: I would notice an instance of some intermediated category
  in the midst of taking out the trash, whereupon I would notice
  that that noticing was itself an instance of some completely
  different intermediated category, whereupon I would notice that
  *that* noticing was itself an instance of yet a third completely
  different intermediating category.  It would take quite a while
  to write all of this down on paper.  If I wrote it all down right
  away, or within an hour or two, I could be confident of having
  remembered it all pretty accurately, since the intermediated
  categories provided a precise vocabulary for articulating what
  had just happened.  I also intermediated extensively on the
  process of writing the stuff down.  I'll never forget one day
  when I was writing out a particularly complex chain of these
  noticings, and found that something I had just thought while
  writing had triggered a sequence of noticings that chained
  so fast that I could not remember it all.  It was a bizarre,
  quasi-mystical experience.  It persuaded me that it was time
  to stop this absurd exercise and start writing my dissertation.

  What did I gain from all this?  It would be hard to tell
  you, much less convince you.  For my own purposes, though, I
  am convinced that a couple of years of regular intermediation
  literally made me much smarter.  I think the part of it that
  made me the most smarter was intermediating on the formation
  of analogies.  As I wrote out my thoughts on a variety of topics
  in my notebook, I would often notice analogies between ideas that
  I had never connected together before, and even if the analogies
  seemed pointless I always wrote them out and followed through all
  of the suggestions that each analogous thought would make for the
  line of thinking represented by the other.  Many of my best ideas
  in graduate school arose this way, and it is commonly held that
  many important discoveries (ones far more important than mine)
  also arose through the noticing of analogies.  By intermediating
  on the process of noticing and working through analogies, I found
  that I noticed lots more analogies than I had before, and that I
  therefore had many more ideas than I had had before.  They were
  not always good ideas, but that's alright, since you only need
  one really good idea to contribute something to the world before
  you die.

  Eventually I stopped intermediating and stopped noticing things
  in that spontaneous way -- at least I stopped noticing things any
  more than anybody else does.  But I do believe that my experience
  of intermediation left me thinking much more clearly than I did
  after my rigorless schooling and the murky commercial culture
  upon which I wasted so much of my childhood.  I got some idea
  of what concreteness means, and abstractness, and the difference
  between an idea that sounds good as words and an idea that I can
  see in my own experience.  I learned to be open to spontaneous
  noticing, and I learned to have respect for the immense
  complexity and wisdom and order of my own everyday life beyond
  my conscious awareness of it.  And above all I learned to get
  intellectual concepts -- those of AI, and by extension all others
  -- in perspective.  We don't really know that much, but we know a
  few good things, and through discipline and humility we can open
  ourselves to learning more from the simplest things around us.


  Wish list.

  I wish for a universal event calendar.  It would be easy to do.
  Someone would set up a simple WWW form with all the entries you
  might want: date, time, venue, title, speaker, price, parking,
  etc.  In the simplest mode, the server could generate web pages
  with a nice layout.  Or it could have several different forms
  for different kinds of events: one-time, weekly, monthly, speaker
  series, competitive sporting events, political rallies, church
  services, weekend workshops, film showings, book signings, art
  exhibitions, legislative hearings, and so on.  In successively
  more complex modes, with more complex form interfaces, event
  promoters could design more complex ads.  These ads might have,
  for example, links to pages for venues that include directions
  and a map to print out.  City council hearing announcements could
  include a link to the agenda.  The whole thing would be linked
  to a relational database, some search engines, a notification
  service, and so on.

  The universal event calendar could be a viable business.  It
  would be free for the event-seeker.  It would also be free for
  nonprofit advertisers using the simplest formats.  Others would
  pay, though it wouldn't take much to keep the computers running.
  Once people started consulting the calendar regularly, it would
  profit event organizers to list their events, which would then
  motivate more people to consult the calendar.

  The calendar service could be interconnected with an awful lot of
  other online services through a distributed object system with a
  relational database for queries.  Take concerts.  You could have
  an object for each artist and each venue, and calendar entries
  could point to them.  If the Firefly music-searching system
  (which I mentioned in TNO 2(9) when it was still an MIT Media Lab
  project called HOMR) used these objects then users could easily
  ask about concerts by bands they have found through Firefly, and
  they could also jump into Firefly to ask about records by bands
  they have found out about through the calendar service.  Firefly
  could even be set to notify you whenever a band is coming to town
  that you are likely to want to see, based on the correlations
  between your tastes and those of other users.

  The relational database would be good for travelers.  Someone who
  traveled a lot on business and always wanted to know where the
  Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or Unitarian Universalist Church
  services were could arrange for them to be listed in advance,
  complete with schedules and maps for each city on a prospective

  The calendar service would also be a good way for an organization
  to remind its members of meetings.  If the organization posts its
  meetings and the members use a reminder service then they will
  always have up-to-date information.  If the system lists events
  that are not public then it will need an authentication system,
  which might be a nuisance.  It will need an authentication
  system anyway, though, to avoid bogus entries (e.g., an enemy of
  Greenpeace announcing a Greenpeace meeting in a dark alley late
  at night) or bogus changes to existing entries.


  This month's recommendations.

  Irresistible Rhythms, Route 1 Box 1320, Buckingham VA 23921.
  The Fall/Winter 1995-96 Irresistible Rhythms catalog is the best
  world music catalog I've seen.  You could order at random from it
  and be guaranteed of getting terrific music.  Its strengths are
  in the most commercial areas -- African pop, Latin, Caribbean,
  and Cajun/Zydeco; it makes little attempt to cover music from
  Asia or the indigenous peoples of Australia or North America.
  But that's okay; the stuff it does list is all great.  If you
  don't trust the hype or want more detailed information, refer to
  the Rough Guide to World Music, which I recommended in TNO 2(3).
  The Smithsonian Folkways catalog is cool, too, and some of it is
  on the Web: http://www.si.edu/products/shopmall/records/start.htm
  With Folkways, though, beginners should be sure to choose modern
  recordings with good stereo imaging; the old ethnomusicological
  recordings often sound more like laboratory data than music you
  would want to party to.

  Joan Greenbaum, Windows on the Workplace: Computers, Jobs, and
  the Organization of Office Work in the Late Twentieth Century,
  New York: Monthly Review Press, 1995.  The more hype we hear
  about impending total revolutions, the more we need historical
  research that puts things in perspective.  Joan Greenbaum's book
  about the modern development of office work could therefore not
  be more timely.  In focusing on the point of view of the people
  who actually work in the offices, it escapes the pitfalls of
  technology-driven utopian and dystopian scenarios, as well as
  the overly simple visions of managers and consultants who don't
  really know what their employees do anyway.  Applicable history.

  Community Technology Center News and Notes.  This is the semi-
  annual newsletter of the Community Technology Centers' Network
  (CTCNet), which is now part of the Education Development Center
  in Newton, MA.  It's a good place to read about all the excellent
  things that people are doing with community access to technology
  in the US.  CTCNet was originally known as the Playing to Win
  Network; it was founded by the most excellent Antonia Stone, who
  was doing this stuff way before it was fashionable.  Subscribing
  for $20/year can keep you in touch, and if you have more money
  they could really use it.  EDC, 55 Chapel St, Newton MA 02158,
  (617) 969-7100 x2727, ctcnet@edc.org, or http://www.ctcnet.org

  William F. Hanks, Language and Communicative Practices, Boulder:
  Westview Press, 1996.  This textbook is the most accessible
  introduction to an important intellectual tradition that seeks
  to synthesize two equally strong but seemingly irreconcilable
  approaches to the study of human language.  Hanks defines the
  first approach through its emphasis on the "irreducibility"
  of language -- that is, the sense that language has its own
  autonomous structure, particularly grammatical structure, that
  we can study without much reference to the actual activities
  in which language is used.  And he defines the second approach
  through its emphasis on the "relationality" of language -- that
  is, the sense that we can only make full sense of language in
  the context of particular, complicated, historically specific,
  ongoing relationships between people.  The first approach, taken
  to extremes, produces the militant formalism of contemporary
  structural linguistics downstream from Noam Chomsky.  The
  second approach, taken likewise to extremes, produces the
  militant relativism of some postmodernist and poststructuralist
  analyses of meaning.  Going to extremes can be valuable for
  a while, but somebody has to bring things back to a synthesis
  before too many generations of students get schooled in the
  rhetoric and tactics of intellectual intolerance.  And that,
  potentially, is the value of Hanks' book, which is intellectually
  demanding in the good sense: it requires the reader to travel
  deeply into the phenomena of language, postponing the leap to
  classifications and allowing the phenomena to speak through
  the refractions of various theorists.  The resulting synthesis
  will not please anybody, since so many tensions will remain,
  but those tensions simply indicate that we have a long way to go
  yet in our understanding of the actual phenomenon of language.



  My wish for a life expectancy server in TNO 2(9) got reprinted in
  Wired and provoked some replies.  One person described the Health
  Risk Appraisal (HRA) system that the Centers for Disease Control
  built in the early 1980's "that would take inputs on about 20
  variables and predict your life expectancy, highest risks for
  death, and the changed life expectancy if you changed certain
  behavior."  It asked you questions; his favorite was "Do you
  frequently argue with or criticize strangers?"  He thinks it
  loaded up on the homicide-risk factor.

  In TNO 2(12) I noted the recent bifurcation in the English word
  "victim".  When pronounced with a normal stress it refers to
  people who have been harmed by some people's bogeys, but when
  pronounced with an extra-heavy stress on the first syllable
  it refers to people who choose to portray themselves as having
  been harmed by some other people's bogeys.  People in the former
  group have boundless moral authority; people in the latter group
  make us sick with their whining and refusal to accept personal
  responsibility.  On public radio's "Marketplace" program the
  other day, I heard a fascinating extension of this distinction.
  In a report on downsizing, a representative of the National
  Association of Manufacturers referred obliquely to those who
  "would rather victimize" the laid-off employees than see their
  situation as the natural order of things.  In other words, the
  verb "to victimize" can now be used to mean "to portray as a
  victim".  The amateur linguist in me was thrilled.

  Web picks.

  A thorough directory of Internet resources for job hunters can
  be found at  http://www.jobtrak.com/jobguide/
  To sample the hype from the recruiters' end, check out the IBJ
  interview at  http://www.phoenix.ca/sie/publish/ibj/recruit.html
  Of course it's a good thing to have efficient ways to find a job.
  But assuming there's a danger too.  If employers' costs of hiring
  are greatly reduced then, by basic economics, other things being
  equal, jobs will become less secure.  Employers' needs evolve
  continually, so there probably exists a person who is better
  qualified for your job than you are.  If it is expensive to find
  and hire that person then it's in your employer's interest to
  provide you with the training and other opportunities that you
  need to get up to date.  But if it's cheap to find and hire that
  person then you're out the door tomorrow.  What is more, as the
  "human resources" person who was interviewed in IBJ remarked,
  the net is especially good for finding people who already have
  jobs but are browsing around to see what might be better.  As the
  costs of hunting for new jobs decreases, the number of people who
  are eyeing your job increases, thus forcing you to spend a lot
  of time eyeing other people's jobs as well.  This can be terribly
  inefficient, given how expensive it is to change jobs, but those
  costs lie squarely on employees, not employers.  So think twice
  before you embrace this brave new world in which you're an
  interchangeable part.

  A company called Offshore Information Services Ltd., located on
  the 88-square-mile Caribbean island of Anguilla, claims to make
  it easy to create an "offshore online identity".  Their publicity
  asserts that "Anguilla has no restrictions on publications about
  dead presidents of France, or information about birth control,
  etc."  Their URL is  http://online.offshore.com.ai/

  My local webmaster, Bruce Jones <bjones@ucsd.edu>, has pointed
  out that two useful critiques of html programming style are: Art
  and the Zen of Websites  http://www.tlc-systems.com/webtips.shtml
  and the HTML Bad Style Page  http://www.earth.com/bad-style/
  Also, a useful guide called "Creating well-designed Web pages
  that are efficient to transmit and navigate (or: being kind to
  people with slow modems and those in developing countries with
  expensive Internet access)" by Philip Bogdonoff of the World Bank
  Electronic Media Center is at  http://www.worldbank.org/html/emc/

  A good collection of Web resources on transportation can be found
  at  http://dragon.Princeton.EDU:80/~dhb/

  A pretty good brief survey of the conflicting statistics about
  net use can be found at  http://webcom.com/~piper/9512/whois.html

  Easily the coolest thing at CFP'96 was a moot court concerning
  a hypothetical US law banning domestic cryptography.  Most of
  the resulting documents are on the Web in the CFP Web pages at

  Phil Agre, editor                                pagre@ucla.edu
  Department of Information Studies
  University of California, Los Angeles         +1 (310) 825-7154
  Los Angeles, California  90095-1520                FAX 206-4460
  Copyright 1996 by the editor.  You may forward this issue of The
  Network Observer electronically to anyone for any non-commercial
  purpose.  Comments and suggestions are always appreciated.

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