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Tue 01 Feb 2005

Pursuing the Transcendent

Category : Commentary/seaChange.txt

Two articles. Plus this picture of Creative's Sim Wong Hoo, which brings to mind the term "beleaguered". Do these all add up to a sea change?

The first article was, "The Revenge of the Right Brain", at Wired :

"Until recently, the abilities that led to success in school, work, and business were characteristic of the left hemisphere. They were the sorts of linear, logical, analytical talents measured by SATs and deployed by CPAs. Today, those capabilities are still necessary. But they're no longer sufficient. In a world upended by outsourcing, deluged with data, and choked with choices, the abilities that matter most are now closer in spirit to the specialties of the right hemisphere - artistry, empathy, seeing the big picture, and pursuing the transcendent."

"Pursuing the transcendent". I've often wondered at how I turned out to be a "Mac fanatic" - if we let the blinkered business press have their day by adopting their terminology.

I think the turning point was when I was at our Ministry of Defense. We've just put up a pretty nice Technology Show, and we ran a lot of the presentations using MacroMind Director. Those were the days when the PCs were on character-based DOS and they only had PC Paintbrush, Harvard Graphics, etc. So, it was really liberating, on the Mac, to be able to choose nice typefaces, use pretty scanned-in graphics of high fidelity, and animate sequences with lead-ins and transitions and even music.

A couple of us who worked on the presentations would have been interested in being copywriters or being in advertising, if we didn't also have an interest in the programming side of using computers. If you observed the guys or girls who gravitated to the Mac, then, you would have over-heard conversations about films or books or music or architecture, even among the techies. So there was a context, or shared understanding, that developed around the use of that tool - mainly because you could relate those extra-curricular interests at so many levels in the use of the tool.

Like, I could relate the work of a master like Alfred Hitchcock to the issues I was grappling with in user-interface design. See Brenda Laurel's "Computers as Theatre".

So, it should have been a great thing to have shared this different way of using computers, and we were being complimented by people from other ministries - that we had opened up their eyes to some new possibilities - but we hadn't counted on being put down by people from our own side who were the gate-keepers - the PC admins, coordinators and sysops who made the rules and control the choices. It was all so much razzle-dazzle to them, inconsequential, signifying nothing. Not just nothing, which would have been alright. But the Mac seemed to have triggered a visceral response - which led, a couple of years later, to every single Mac being rooted out from the organisation, most of them still in good working order.

It's the response to stupidity and waste and injustice that characterises the actions of someone who's called a "Mac fanatic". If you understand the Great Classical-Romantic Divide, and the difference between left-brained types and right-brained types - all these could be explained. I've spent four years in engineering school, among people whose shirts don't match the pants don't match the socks. I could live in that world, and have friends there, too. But did some of them get laughed at when they went over to check out the girls at the Arts faculty, and felt compelled to take it out on the "flashy, GQ-types" the moment they had control over them due to their better affinity with computational tools? We'll never know.

But what we do know is that, from the start, computers were technically difficult. The people who moved up to positions of power were pre-dominantly left-brained, with degrees in maths, computer science or engineering. It's taken quite a bit of time but things are starting to change.

The problem with the Great Classical-Romantic Divide is one of vision, or the lack thereof. The left-brained types, the people in control of the technical choices - they don't know what they don't know, can't see, and don't care. But there are more people pointing things out their way now.

Like this article today, "Dell - Beware the Beige Box Blahs".

" Rollins (Dell's CEO) dismissed Apple's mega-selling iPod as a "fad," calling it a "one-product wonder," and he pooh-poohed the eye-catching Mac mini as inconsequential.

" Rollins' comments are more than uncharacteristic. They're troubling -- and not just for their snippiness. They raise real questions about how well Dell understands the home market."

That's it, again. Fad. Inconsequential. That was the kind of response we got so many years ago. But now the tide is turning. How much does Dell understand about what the PC market's turning into?

Or Sim Wong Hoo, for that matter? How much does Sim Wong Hoo understand about the war he has declared. He, with his harmonica, is as un-cool as anyone could be from U2 and The Edge. And we're talking about being in the music business - that's where the war is being waged, and he doesn't know.

Not that I'm picking on a fellow countryman. How much does Bill Gates really understand about working with information on a computer, with his "Business at the Speed of Stupid" ideas.

We're really working with information, not computers. Like the way Revlon doesn't really sell cosmetics but hope. It's really about integrating art with technology - "artistry, empathy, seeing the big picture, and pursuing the transcendent". If we believe that we've got this just one life to live, ought we not to try to live life to the full, in all its multi-facetted glory? Why bother to use just one side of our brain when we could use both? It's about having breadth of vision and a unity of purpose. And remembering to thank our Creator for having made it possible.

At this point, imagine Van Morrison singing "Have I told you lately that I love you". That version gives true meaning to the word "transcendent". Just what do we do without iTunes?

Posted at 2:10PM UTC | permalink

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