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The Longest Now

Feats of Clay
Friday January 21st 2005, 2:56 am
Filed under: %a la mod

I had an epiphany after the end of the conference last Saturday. 
I was pacing – as I inevitably am when they strike – thinking
about the last session of the day, where Dave Winer had asked everyone
what more they wanted out of blog software beyond title, attribution, and
date.  ‘More options for configuring my main page,’ said
one.  ‘More than just chronological ordering,‘ said another,
that’s what we spend all day working on in the newspaper editing

It came to me that no-one, not the hotshot designers, not the
interface gurus, not the luminaries in the room, not the blog-happy
grandmothers with surfeits of common sense, had an inkling of what an
ideal interface would look like, even for their own peculiar needs. 
Where I grew up [TwenCen Earth, for those of you following along from a vasty distance],
we weren’t raised to think this way.  We’re lucky to see one or
two ideal interfaces in our lifetime that we recognize as such (of
course our bodies, the natural world, even those man-made constructs we
take for granted, often qualify).

I could go off on what kind of ideal interface I would like – in fact I
feel somehow obligated to answer the catalyst question – but that’s for
another time.  It’s enough to note here the thought that even
clever and skillful craftsmen are rarely working towards an Ideal
And most people don’t know what their ideal interfaces, tools, or
toolchains would be like, wouldn’t recognize their blueprints, wouldn’t
know quite what to do with one them until they picked it up, walked
through one, saw someone next to them on a subway or airplane using it
with ease…

I also saw for an instant the steady progress of my own criticism of
the world : the progression of classes of idols whose feet I’ve watched
melt and run in the warm rain
when I began to know a few personally.  Public school teachers;
lawyers; professors; city boards and mayors; venture capitalists; my
parents (despite remaining, respectively, the most brilliant and most
sensible adults I’ve ever met); international political and media leaders… and now technologists.  It comes
as a physical shock each time I realize that another class of [expert,
brilliant] people don’t generally know or even feel that they could know
what the next
fifty years have in store; don’t know of or feel obliged to find a
coordinated approach to coordinating the efforts of a thousand
colleagues in their field; don’t have access to conceptual blueprints
which, however difficult to realize, make sense of the chaos of the

I have known a double-handful of geniuses whose analysis, perceptiveness, and sense of direction and place – a balance of local and nonlocal Tao? – I would follow
anywhere.  But they are rarely the models or idols in their
fields; more often they are the eccentric success stories.  (And
the last time I did follow one, the rain washed out their foundation if not their feet…
so I don’t look too closely.)

More surprising to me — I have yet to meet a class of people who
recognized one another for those capacities, and collectively sought
out that lasting marble clarity as they pressed forward with their
life’s work.  For a while I thought technologists and inventors
epitomized this capacity, despite inefficiencies in the notion of
capital markets.   But I realize now that there is rarely
social or financial advantage in this.

Grasping the “big picture”, or developing the large-scale-plan, both have the underlying assumption there is a big picture, a large-scale-plan can exist.

While I, and others, often do have a hazy sense of what it is we are doing and how it fits into the universe, this is at best an imperfect viewing. And often rather irrelevant. I avoid discussing it because I know it’s pretty squiffy, others may have a completely different vision of the same facts, and it is utterly subjective to everything else which makes me do what I’m doing.

Still, I prefer to work with others who, imperfectly as we do, perceive some larger goal than themselves, than what they are doing right now. And build bricks of our clay feet.

Comment by Amgine 01.30.05 @ 7:04 pm

I’ve been working on a “what is my ideal blog interface” thingy for a while now. Not that it is all that great shakes, but I think sometimes people look to the wrong places for this particular sort of inspiration. It’s not necessarily the technologists who will have innovations about ideal interfaces – they’re too bogged down, often, in thinking about what already is, to be able to easily see what it might be nice to have in the category of “could be.” It’s users. Technologists would do well to listen more to what users want, even those of us who are woefully non-technical, like me… 😀

Comment by Erica 01.31.05 @ 2:34 pm

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