Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘technology’

10 SEPTEMBER, 2012

Design, Knowledge, and Human Intelligence: RIP Bill Moggridge, Designer of the First Laptop

By:

“You can’t really, truly expect to explain design unless you explain intelligence.”

Sad days for the design world: We’ve lost Bill Moggridge (1943-2012) — visionary pioneer, designer of the world’s first laptop, director of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and one infinitely kind man. No attempt to capture the full scope of his legacy and cultural imprint would be remotely adequate, but revisiting his inimitable insight into the essence, purpose, and sociocultural capacity of design is a poignant reminder of just what we’ve lost with his passing — and how much we’ve gained through his timeless wisdom.

In 2007, shortly after the publication of his now-iconic Designing Interactions, Moggridge gave an interview for Ambidextrous Magazine, in which he articulates with his signature blend of insight and irreverence some of the most critical issues that still keep design a culturally misunderstood discipline and design education a broken model.

One of the paradoxes Moggridge addresses is that of the usefulness of “useless” knowledge and the fetishizing of factual knowledge:

[Academia is] all about explicit knowledge. And design, by definition — along with the other arts like poetry or writing — is mostly not so explicit. It’s mostly tacit knowledge. It has to do with people’s intuitions and harnessing the subconscious part of the mind rather than just the conscious. And the result is if you try and couch the respectability of a professor or some form of research grant in terms that are normal for science, then it looks very weak. And so you have to have a different attitude, really, in order to see the strength that it could offer or the value that it could offer. And that’s a big difficulty both in academia and in terms of foundations.

[…]

If you think about the structure of the mind, there just seems to be a small amount that is above the water—equivalent to an iceberg—which is the explicit part…And most academic subjects are designed to live in that explicit part that sticks out of the water. If you can find a way to harness, towards a productive goal, the rest of it, the subconscious [understanding], the tacit knowledge, the behavior — just doing it and the intuition — all those, then you can bring in the rest of the iceberg. And that is hugely valuable.

NASA astronaut using the first notebook computer, Moggridge's GRiD Compass, on a space shuttle flight.

Moggridge draws a fascinating parallel between design and science, echoing the idea that intuition is essential to both scientific discovery and creativity:

Every scientist is an intuitive person, and most ‘ahas’ come from intuition anyway. And we all know that we fall in love with things and that we’re interested in subjective qualitative values. It’s just whether you recognize it as having something that you can use in a respective environment or a respectable sense.

Ultimately, and perhaps precisely because it requires this kind of abstract knowledge and combinatorial creativity, Moggridge frames design as a form of intelligence:

I really don’t think you’re going to understand design and art until you understand intelligence [and how the brain works]. So you can dent it, you can sort of make things so there are interesting insights and will help people, and you can explain process, but you can’t really, truly expect to explain design unless you explain intelligence.

He leaves us with a seemingly simple but infinitely important reminder, wrapped in a hope for better design writing and education:

So few people seem to realize that everything’s designed. And until we get some good people telling the story, that’s probably going to continue to be the case. So I’d love it if there was a consciousness in the public mind that mathematics and reading and writing is not enough — you also need to learn how to do design. Because everything is designed, and the way our world exists around us depends on how well it’s designed.

Fortunately, we’ve had some really good people telling design’s story. But what tragedy to lose one of the best of them — Bill Moggridge, you will be missed.

In 2010, Moggridge followed up with Designing Media — a modern treasure.

Images via Smithsonian courtesy IDEO, Associated Press

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

06 SEPTEMBER, 2012

Pioneers! O Space Pioneers! A Walt Whitman + NASA Mashup

By:

“Conquering, holding, daring, venturing as we go the unknown ways, Pioneers! O pioneers!”

On the heels of yesterday’s animated adaptation of Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot and Ray Bradbury’s passionate case for space exploration earlier this week comes a dynamic mashup of Walt Whitman’s poem “Pioneers! O Pioneers!” and awe-inspiring footage of mankind’s cosmic triumphs. Conceived before Neil Armstrong’s passing but released this past Labor Day, the video pays homage to the beloved pioneer and casts a hopeful eye towards the future of space exploration. Creator JankAround writes:

On this Labor Day, let’s all remember that regardless of policies, regardless of methods, and regardless of destinations, our journey into outer space will take an immense amount of work.

Come my tan-faced children,
Follow well in order, get your weapons ready,
Have you your pistols? have you your sharp-edged axes?
Pioneers! O pioneers!

For we cannot tarry here,
We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger,
We the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

We take up the task eternal, and the burden and the lesson,

We debouch upon a newer mightier world, varied world,
Fresh and strong the world we seize

Lo, the darting bowling orb!
Lo, the brother orbs around, all the clustering suns and planets,
All the dazzling days, all the mystic nights with dreams,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Has the night descended?

did we stop discouraged nodding on our way?

not for us the tame enjoyment,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Conquering, holding, daring, venturing as we go the unknown ways,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Pioneers! O pioneers!

Complement with the fantastic Sagan Series remixes and the goosebump-giving The Sky Is Calling Us.

It’s Okay To Be Smart

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

04 SEPTEMBER, 2012

Ray Bradbury on Libraries, Space Exploration, and the Secret of Life: The Lost Comic-Con Interview

By:

“Don’t think about things, just do them; don’t predict them, just make them.”

Of the many things that made Ray Bradbury one of the greatest creative spirits of our time, his remarkable passion for life stood out not only as an inspiring echelon but also as a necessary antidote to our all-too-prevalent cultural trope of the tortured genius, the mythology that in order to be creative and successful, we must on some level be miserable. Reader Juan Kafka points me to a fantastic lesser-known interview with Bradbury, one of his last, conducted by Bradbury’s official biographer, Sam Weller — who collected many of his conversations with Bradbury in Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews — at Comic-Con 2010. It was recorded by Jeff Goldsmith, maker of the free storytelling app Backstory. At 90, Bradbury is as full of zest as ever, brimming with a love of life as he discusses space exploration, libraries, technology, and the importance of doing what you love. The full Q&A runs over an hour, but I’ve excerpted and transcribed the most salient parts below — enjoy.

On prediction, purpose, and making things happen — a complement to Bradbury’s prior passionate case for doing what you love:

SW: How did you predict all of this stuff, Ray, how did you predict all of these technologies?

RB: The secret of life is being in love, and by being in love, you predict yourself. Whatever you want is whatever you get. You don’t predict things, you make them. You gotta be a Zen Buddhist, like me: Don’t think about things, just do them; don’t predict them, just make them.

On public libraries:

SW: Of course, you have been, really, the patron saint of the American public library system … You love public libraries — tell us the story of your love affair with libraries.

RB: When I left high school, I had all my plans to go to college, but I had no money. And I decided then, the best thing for me to do is not worry about getting money to go to college — I will educate myself. I walked down the street, I walked into a library, I would go to the library three days a week for ten years and I would educate myself. It’s all FREE, that’s the great thing about libraries! Most of you can afford to go to college, but if you wanna educate yourself completely, go to the library and educate yourself. When I was 28 years old, I graduated from Library.

On space exploration, for which Bradbury has ardently advocated before:

SW: One of the technologies you have been in favor of is space exploration. Why is space exploration so important to you?

RB: Because we are gonna live forever, if we go out in space, if we go back to the moon — we should’ve never left the moon — we should go back and build a base, we should go back and build a base on the moon and go on to Mars and we should put a civilization on Mars and then, 500 years from now, move out into the universe, and when we do that, we have a chance of living forever. That’s why I believe in space exploration.

Further in the interview, he revisits the subject with equal parts endearing fantasy-world outlandishness and very real policy concerns:

SW: What should we be investing in for the future, to assure our future? What should we focus on for tomorrow?

RB: We’ve gotta reinvest in space travel. We should’ve never left the moon. We’ve gotta get back to the moon and build a firm base there, so that sometime in the next 40 years we can take off and go to the planet Mars. We’ve gotta become the Martians. I’m a Martian — I tell you to become Martians. And we’ve gotta go to Mars and civilize Mars and build a whole civilization on Mars and then move out, 300 years from now, into the universe. And when we do that, we have a chance of living forever. So our future is investing, right now, in space travel, and money should be given to NASA sometime next year to build the rockets to go back to the moon.

He later brings this same blend of fantasy and civic engagement to gridlock and the monorail dream:

We’ve gotta build monorails all over LA and California … The freeways don’t work, but monorails would do the job for us. Get rid of the goddamn freeways and build the monorails.

On loving life and living with joy:

SW: If you could time-travel to a moment in your life, what moment would you go back to?

RB: Every. Single. Moment. Every single moment of my life has been incredible, I’ve loved it, I’ve savored it, it’s been beautiful — because I’ve remained a boy. The man you see here tonight is not a man, he’s a 12-year-old boy, and this boy is still having fun. And I remain a boy forever.

He then takes the question of growing up head-on:

SW: We hear this term, ‘grow up.’ Do you feel like you’ve ‘grown up’? How have you been able to stay connected with your inner child over the years, because a lot of people lose touch with that?

RB: You remain invested in your inner child by exploding every day. You don’t worry about the future, you don’t worry about the past — you just explode. So, if you are dynamic, you don’t have to worry about what age you are. So I’ve remained a boy, because boys run everywhere — they never stop running, they never look back, they never look back, they just keep running, running, and running. That’s me — the running boy.

Weller’s biography of Bradbury is a must-read, to be complemented with his recently released Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury.

Complement with Sartre on why “being-in-the-world-ness” is the key to the imagination and De Beauvoir on ambiguity, vitality, and freedom.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.