It is so incredibly frustrating that having that single word in a document will cause many to be offended and to not want to read any further, while we are in a situation with False News and Alternative Fact and we are not organising ourselves as a species to build systems to augment how we can interact with what we read – we seem to be blind to how important and powerful every word is.
Most communication which is not face to face is via the written word. (Few people have the skills to make a video which will inform or entertain anyone but the most docile friends and family and video is not an effective means for dialog nor non-linear interaction)
Writing is an act of persuasion.
Any written sentence is there to persuade the reader of its veracity and relevance, whether it’s an important government communique or a simple direction to the nearest toilet.
Plato wrote how Socrates was wary of writing since the written word is passive – it cannot be interrogated and therefore can be false or half false. Socrates was wary of False News and Alternative Facts two thousand years ago and now, when the written word is no longer written in stone, papyrus or paper, now that the written word has been liberated into cyberspace, we are tripping over the connections and links more than liberated by them, as a result of ever chasing the Ease-of-Use fairy.
As a species, we have a choice: To take the easy route into blindness and amuse ourselves to death or to accept that we need to invest in becoming more deeply literate – all of us – simply to survive.
How can it be that our species is not investing in developing ever more powerful ways to interact with the written word?
Marshall McLuhan famously said “There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew …” … and I would like to add that we should at least all be able to read the flight manual and contribute to new editions, of this most complex planet with it’s most complex crew. We cannot afford to both drown in data and be helpless to contribute usefully.
The research project I am running at the University of Southampton’s WAIS Group (Web And Internet Science) for my PhD is a focused effort to augment our ability to author with more credibility, of which deep citations is a core component and to read critically.
And today I feel like shit, I feel like finding a mountaintop where I can stand and scream my lungs out all night. I don’t feel empowered, I feel mired in academia and commercial interests.
We use analog copies in a digital world, what some call WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), a term XEROX invented since the point of doing ‘word processing’ was naturally to print out the final result. Doug Engelbart called it WYSIAYG – What You See Is ALL You Get, since all the potential digital interaction is stripped out. We have been using analog media to try to control a digital information world, with PDF as the saddest example.
We can do better.
We really can. The work I am doing at Southampton is a continuation of what I’ve been stumbling forward with for over 20 years now and I am no genius, but I am in comfortable and stable situation so I can afford to look for what might be obvious but also useful. Thus my work has no intellectual property and is therefore not so interesting for business but looks too useful for non-profits to invest in and there you go.
Concretely what I am building as part of the Liquid Project has three parts, the first of which is already available and has gotten very good reviews: Liquid | Flow which allows you to select any text and instantly look up the text in a myriad of resources, searches and you can do translations and more. The second component is a word processor called Liquid | Author where you can instantly add citations, including video citations and finally there is Liquid | Views, which opens up your thinking space to really give you a better view of what you are writing or reading. You can see what it’s all about here, including very brief introduction videos: www.liquid.info
Thank you for reading this, or even skimming down to the end, I appreciate your time. This was a poem, this is my frustration and my fear. It is also our opportunity.