(Our house is on fire. Should we have another coffee and chat about it and try to put it out that way or should we maybe build a powerful hose and get off our butts and put it out?)
…we don’t have these tools, concepts, skills, and heuristics because our species is smart; we are smart because we have culturally evolved a vast repertoire of tools, concepts, skills, and heuristics…
This is another post in the ‘Why is interactive text important’ Category. I really don’t like to write these since I feel they are kind of defensive but since what I write is clearly not obvious to the general public I feel I have no choice. The book quote above, by Joseph Henrich, makes the point that culture is what makes us smart and he firmly places tools as a cultural transmitted human extension. Howard Rheingold ‘made’ me read this book and I think it it makes its point powerfully.
We are seeing serious climate change issues as well as issues of poverty, social injustice, lack of education, important academic work lost in sheer volume of documents produced and the potential war but what I hear is that we have enough tools and technology, what we need are new ways to be smarter and work together. I do not find these to be mutually exclusive, I find that technology is a greatly powerful way to augment our smarts and our communication and collaboration.
Yes social media presents real issues now but this is because virtually all the effort to design them has been from the commercial interests who made the them and they benefit from the discord of the medium since it keeps us engaged. There has been very little work by those whose focus is purely to augment our ability to understand what someone else is writing and communicate our own thoughts clearly, whether for work or socially. Not only has social media been commercialised, it also has been weaponised by those with vested interests and the resources behind them. This is why we must arm the citizenry. This is why we must invest in providing better tools and interactions by those who represent the users. To add two analogies to this mix: It’s like we have no car safety tests or rules and no food safety–it’s all just self policed by the auto and food industries. But back to the analogy of buildings, which I have been using for the last few posts:
Our house is on fire and I feel like a fireman saying ‘our house is on fire’ but although people in general complain about the heat and smell and argue over which fire is most important (civil rights, climate, etc.) and complain about who promises to put the fires out (politicians of various stripes), they can’t be bothered to get off their seats to douse the flames–they only throw their water glasses at it while I beg them to help me build a more powerful fire hose–but that’s just more water they say, more of the same thing. Why would we need that? We need better ways to talk about the flames they say. Water glasses only makes the problem worse since many don’t use it right and spill it and we slip on it when we go to the bathroom so clearly water is not the answer they say, we have too much of that already.
Our house really is on fire and we need to put it out.
A major medium for serious communication to form consensus and coordinate our efforts is the written word. Out mental resources is the water in this analogy and text is one of the firehose technologies through which we direct our mental resources. How can this not be a crucial world-goal to improve for anyone but those who actually benefit from the status quo?