With apologies to Bill Viola, whose “Will There Be Condominiums in Data Space?” inspires this too-quickly rendered post, a branching (perhaps schitzo) structure that spins away from the linearity of written language into something more associative. (Richer? Dumber?)
I hear the condominiums are nice in Costa Rica y muy popular (Google tells me so). Las Gaviotas circle overhead, less marketable than their more colorful compadres:
Do they occupy data space in Costa Rica? Perhaps so. Data occupies space in an imagined future, or so I’ve heard, and perhaps currently in Russia as well. In Moscow, this might be called a “данные космос“:
I’ve heard it said more than once that everything you need to know about human nature and psychology is contained in the great Russian novels. Is this true? And whether or not it is, does it matter? How many people read the Russian novels? (They’re so long!) One of my students tells me that his literature professor said War and Peace was sort of like the Russian version of Desperate Housewives. I may be mischaracterizing my student’s mischaracterization. Who can be sure?
We look forward, we look back, we look every direction at once. We recursively circle back in endless loops until we’ve lost our way. Or maybe it’s simpler than that:
(Still photo from Bill Viola’s video installation, “Heaven and Earth”)
If there are condominiums in data space, will there be HOA fees?
In “Computer Lib/Dream Machines,” Ted Nelson reads as if he could be the spiritual father of Jaron Lanier, the virtual reality pioneer and author of You Are Not a Gadget. (I’d be shocked if Lanier hasn’t read Nelson’s work.) There are a variety of ways in which these two seem philosophically aligned, but I’ll just consider one: Lanier’s idea of “lock in” and how that goes alongside some of Nelson’s critiques of the American educational system and of “Computer Assisted Instruction” (CAI).
Lanier has written about how certain bad standardized designs in computer programs and on the web have gotten “locked in” so that they are difficult to change, and how those designs help lead to a variety of problematic or even calamitous effects (exploitation of internet users, losses of creativity, flattening of individuality, among others). I heard echoes of this when Nelson was critiquing some of the problems of our standardized education system and the way it can stifle the creativity and learning of students. I found myself agreeing with a lot of what Nelson had to say there, and was also heartened to see some of his critiques of CAI advocates. Nelson strikes a good balance between advocating for the technological and the human.
Among the designs of the off-line world that are indeed “locked in” in many respects, our flawed education system is a prominent one. I feel this every time I have to grade my students, or every time I have to rush through some lesson in class that this group of students over here needs much more time with while another group of students in the same class is ready to move on. I’ve often felt that in an ideal world, I could act as more of an individual tutor or guide to each student, pacing the work accordingly to keep them engaged and learning, tailoring my lessons to their abilities and interests. (A modern-day governess, maybe?) Given the structures and limits within which I have to work, I can only do this to a certain extent. Computers or CAI may be a way out of this.
But CAI is not a panacea. Nelson appears to know this. To achieve the best results for students, to keep them engaged and foster their individual experiences, it seems to me that there needs to be a very careful balance of CAI and TAI (Teacher-Assisted Instruction). I suspect Nelson believes this too.
The question for me then comes to this: do those who advocate for modern-day versions of CAI–including the expansion of on-line learning here at the University of California–believe this?