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Betsy Acolyte Watch: Bruce Mau Down, Nassim Nicholas Taleb Up

July 9, 2010

A couple of days ago, I wrote that I was going to take a look at Bruce Mau’s Massive Change somewhat seriously (that was where I first came upon the term chaord). Oof. After dutifully allotting some real time to it today (as opposed to flipping through or skimming time, which is how I usually look at books–I try to filter the ones which make it to the next level), I am back to being Not Impressed with Mau. Look, I’m still excited, or rather, intrigued about the Institute without Boundaries, and I can confess frankly that besides S, M, L, XL and Massive Change I don’t know Mau’s work. But how am I supposed to react to a book which has a chapter title page with the text "We will build a global mind."?? That’s only one of a number of pretentious, easy, silly platitudes the book is peppered with. (If I had more interest in ripping the book apart or had had more time in the library, I might have written them down, but…. it’s a pretty text-low book–so feel free to flip through it yourself.) Betsy the pessimist, Betsy the crank, Betsy the party pooper. But who can not laugh at "we will build a global mind?" I may occasionally feel guilty for being pessimist (we call it realistic round these here parts) but I won’t blink at demanding complexity and laughing at facile faux-design-y futurisms. (Don’t worry, right after this I’ll run out to look at Mau’s stuff to either scorn him further or cheerfully eat my shit.)

On the other hand, I started reading The Black Swan by Taleb today randomly in the library. It was not supposed to happen; I was supposed to start right off with Complexity. But The Black Swan was there, and I’d heard of it before and been intrigued, and I had an inkling it might have something to do with my new superficial interest of complexity, chaos, etc. (I am into visual communication, dammit–to be superficial is quite appropriate). Google it for a better summary, but it’s basically about randomness, and how events with a low probability can quite drastically change things. But beyond that, in terms of the spine in Twyla Tharp’s sense of the word, I think it’s about the need to be constantly skeptical, empirical, open-minded (to interpretations, causes, effects) and flexible (in response to unexpected events). In terms of randomness and such, I’m quite confident that the book won’t really end up affecting my thesis in any direct way, but in terms of approach—a different story. And what a fun, terrific book. He’s a good, readable writer who’s funny and makes swipes at the French (that might be all it takes to win me over) and he articulates a lot of things I’ve felt but can’t express (alas, that’s my lot that I could fight against, but at this point I’d rather move on to exploiting it) like the need to be skeptical towards science. And he’s cranky like me! Which, of course, I love. So after a certain point couldn’t objectively praise him, because of course I would be for any smart intellect who advocates the approach/tone, etc, I’ve chosen. On a somwhat random note, he talks quite reassuringly about the troubles of the creative process, which I always have a soft spot for.

I am just a third of the way through, so am excited to see what comes next…

One Comment leave one →
  1. Ashwin permalink
    July 29, 2010 9:24 am

    Hey, I looked at it and didn’t laugh!

    We’re already approaching global minds. I read into as related to connectivity, rather than uniformity of thought. To a relative degree, unadulterated information is readily available in uniform formats to masses. Further, opinions, thought processes, concerns, personal data and human factors are quickly aggregated, sorted and grouped. While this does eliminate lots of details, and isn’t perfect, it hints at what a ‘global mind’ may be.

    Admittedly, the entire book is utopian, and that is a valid concern. It details (mostly) technological solutions for extant problems, and if past accomplishments are any standard to go by, I see no problem with making most of the claims he does. It’s utopian because he has no real conception of timeframes, funding, culture politics and powerplay.

    What’s more, he bandies about the word design as if he’s saving the world through visual design. It’s obviously exaggerated, and I take issue with that too. It’s simply unreasonable of him to draw the parallels he does between the conception/development of emerging technologies and this amorphous field he regurgitates branded as ‘design’. That said, the things he describes aren’t really unreasonable.

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