Saturday, February 05, 2005

Life is Random -- Not!

Many have remarked on Apple's chutzpah in the classic art of redefining a bug to be a feature. Since the new iPod shuffle is too dumb to be much more than random, make lemonade of it.

A deeper media lesson can be seen here as well. Take the shuffle's direction toward dumbness, and look in the other direction. The classic example of this was given by Doug Engelbart, one of the fathers of hypertext (and inventor of the mouse). He proposed a research project for "The Augmentation of Human Intellect" using computer-based media tools that set the stage for the Web.

To illustrate the concept of augmented intelligence, Engelbart suggested it would be easier to get the idea of augmenting a tool, if we first considered de-augmenting a tool. He presented a picture of a pencil lashed to a brick. Imagine writing with this as our only writing tool. Now imagine how much better we can write with the pencil alone. That is augmentation. Now imagine what augmentation beyond the pencil would allow.

So now, we have life as random, which we can see as de-augmentation, compared to the playlist tools that are now common. Imagine what might come when we augment those tools further. Playlist services that know your tastes and use sensors to gauge your mood... that know who is with you and what they like... that understand which pieces of music flow together well... that draw on highly informed serendipity, not blind randomness...

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