Excellent, must-read post from the Terry Elliot in the Connected Courses conversation which pulls in ideas of Christopher Alexanders’ System A (the organic, generative) and System B (the industrial, dead). Key grafs (for me at least):
I have a lot of questions about whether any of the web-based tools we are using actually fit the mold of System A. I don’t often feel those spaces as convivial and natural. Behind the artifice of interface lay the reality of code. Is that structure humane? Is it open, sustainable, and regenerative? Does it feel good? Does the whole idea behind code generate System A or System B? I really don’t know.
What I do know is that I get the very distinct feeling that certain systems I use are not convivial. Google+, Facebook, WordPress, Twitter while full of humans, feel closed, feel like templates to be filled in not spaces to be lived in. Hence, the need for outsiders more than ever to raise the question especially in this week of connected courses where we are talking about the why of why.
As readers know, I’ve been on an Alexander kick lately. And it’s less that Alexander led me to these sorts of questions than questions that have been disturbing me have led me to Alexander. So I probably have a less useful perspective than someone that comes to this with a wealth of Alexandrian insight.
“Templates to be filled, not places to be lived in.” Hmmm.
Maybe some of this unavoidable. But I wonder in particular if some of it is the perils of StreamMode, that tendency to conceptualize all of out digital life as a stream of events and statements reacting to other events and statements in a never-ending crawl. The problem with StreamMode is that the structures that make StreamMode coherent are past conversations and concepts newbies don’t have access to. StreamMode also relies heavily on personalities, and hence, popularity.
Look at this blog post, for instance. You want to know what StreamMode is? Do I link to to a definition? No, not hardly. I link you to an older piece that kinda-sorta defines the term in a context that involves a bunch of people and posts you don’t know about. How humane is that?
StateMode is a little different. StateMode is like a wiki — at any given point in time the wiki represents the total documented understanding of the community. The voice that develops is generic or semi-generic, and aims to be architecture, not utterance. If you want the feeling of StateMode, go to a place like TV Tropes. Look past the ads and you’ll find the site invites you into the community as living architecture instead of stream. New articles form as ways to make older articles more meaningful, or understandable. The process is recursive, not episodic.
The problem is that StreamMode builds community at the expense of coherence, and StateMode builds coherence at the expense of community.
I think this may be one of those irreducible conundrums, but I also think over the past 10 years we have veered too much into StreamMode, which gives us not that timeless sense but an overwhelming wave of personality pinging off of personality.
Ages ago on the Internet you used to stuble onto weird and wonderful mini-sites, like secret gardens found in the middle of the woods. Now we find streams of conversation, endlessly repeating, pushing us to live in a narrative that is not ours. The expressive nature of the web is to be treasured, but I think we’ve lost something.