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Tue 31 Aug 2004

Ways of Seeing

Category : Commentary/waysOfSeeing.txt

I was thinking, after I made that last post, that maybe we can try to understand how two people can look at the same iMac G5 in two different ways.

Readers of this weblog may know that I have made references to Robert Pirsig's book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" - and his ideas about the classical-romantic dichotomy - many times.

What Paul Thurrott is doing, when he says that the iMac is derivative and boring, is that he is looking at things from the classical point of view, i.e., in terms of form and function.

So, if you think only in terms of form and function, you will consider that, hey, the PC manufacturers have built PCs with largely similar physical configurations before, and so, where's the excitement?

The classical mind, which can find beauty in abstract symbols and meanings, will also find Windows XP Service Packs exciting. You would, too, if you think about it means - that this is Microsoft at their best, showing resilience and cunning in extricating themselves from close shaves and near disasters, with convoluted patches and counter-patches.

The romantically-inclined person, on the other hand, just wants to run his hands over the smooth, (presumably) white surface of the new iMac and admire the glint from the metallic surfaces. It is shape, fit, colour, and texture that excite us. And how it all feels ... just right.

For example, when I'm writing these words, I'm concentrating on the message. I'm wondering if I, myself, understand what I'm saying. I'm conscious of myself dredging out half-formed ideas, and organising them into a stream that, hopefully, makes sense to another person. But I'm not conscious of the fact that I'm pecking at the keyboard. If I were, I would lose my train of thought.

That's why Mac users understand the joke about the disappearing computer - "where did the computer go?". In our mind, the computer was long gone, and that was what made the Mac great as a thinking tool. What Apple did with the iMac G5 was to make the physical computer gone, too, at least visually, and we enjoy how advances in technology have now made these two images resonate in sync, as they ought to.

So, Paul Thurrott can't see what's so exciting about the new iMac. But Mac users see excitement in precisely the absence of things to see.

The computer ought to disappear, leaving only the screen, because that's the only thing left that ought to be there. The best tool is the tool you're not conscious of using. In that sense, less will always better.

Thirty spokes meet at a nave;
Because of the hole we may use the wheel.
Clay is moulded into a vessel;
Because of the hollow we may use the cup.
Walls are built around a hearth;
Because of the doors we may use the house.
Thus tools come from what exists,
But use from what does not.

From Peter Merel's interpretation of the Tao Te Ching

Posted at 4:58PM UTC | permalink


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