In response to: 5by5 | The Critical Path #15: The Theater of Disruption

This post is in response to: “5by5 | The Critical Path #15: The Theater of Disruption” on

[Updated 14 December 2011]

Another great exchange, this time between Horace and Hoon Lee!

Around the 51 minute mark in this stimulating podcast exchange, Hoon Lee (pictured at right) said something that triggered a big reaction in me, regarding exploring interactions that feel native to the internet, the online narrative, and that the “primary carrier system” online is text, as it is on Twitter, Facebook and mobile devices, and how it would be interesting to “go back to text” and explore it’s affinities with radio.

As we all know, when we read books, as when we listen to radio and podcasts, we read text and hear words. And one of the things that makes books and radio a great experience is that we take the words and in effect “rehydrate” them with our own imaginations and backfill the missing visuals with our own unique and personalized visualizations which are a key part of the experience.

While this is great for books and radio, there are other areas where this just doesn’t work at all, areas where precision and accuracy is paramount.  One such area is app development.

For example, an experienced iPhone app developer has a working and precise 3D model in his/her head of how the world of objects and frameworks fit together, how messages fly around, how objects delegate tasks to one another, along with an understanding of the various “patterns” that good programmers adhere to.

But what happens when a new person comes along and wants to learn?  We unfortunately rely on text because of its supreme convenience.

An analysis of all the app development learning resources out there, which I am an expert in, reveals that it’s virtually all text based, with the occasional 2D visualization.  Even videos are keynote presentations of text with occasional 2D images.

The result is that it takes many months, if not YEARS to bring someone up to speed.  It’s horrible, and what ensues is a lot of confusion, with wrong models being constructed in the student’s head which must to be broken down and reconstructed repeatedly in successive approximation (and you know how hard it is for humans to break a bad habit or relearn someone’s name they’ve learned incorrectly. 🙂

Fast forward to the optimal way to communicate, and you have two people sitting in chairs with special helmets they put on to transfer knowledge between them, or perhaps the Vulcan mind meld might work too.

Well, a practical solution that’s waiting in the wings (in hopefully the near future) are all the as-yet unavailable tools that can make it child’s play to visually explain and communicate things that are in each of our heads, and just bypass words and text.  Imagine the possibilities!

We now have tools that have democratized desktop publishing, image processing, capturing and editing video, and the visualization tools Horace uses.  But we still have a long way to go getting tools that’ll allow us to visually communicate the rest of the things we can see in our heads in 3D. Until then we’re stuck communicating the subtleties and visuals in our heads by translating them into words and embarking on the laborious process of doing our best to get the listener to understand what we mean.

The point I’m trying to make is that text is everywhere. I’m using it now because I have no choice. But most of us don’t see how woefully inadequate words can be when we want to express ourselves.  When some of us are trained to constantly look for errors in communication, it can be a painful experience.  I don’t watch the news anymore.  I believe that oversimplification is the greatest challenge of the 21st century.

When I talk about this, I always end with “I’m waiting for when Pixar’s visualization tools are finally available on my iPad.”

I know this is a long post, but why do commenting systems want me to compress this comment into four paragraphs?  Horace mentioned that “the system inhibits innovation.”  Well, think about what text inhibits, much less the places we use it.  I removed it from asymco’s site and replaced it with a link to here.  Did people bother to come here and read all this boring text? 🙂

The remarkable painter Chuck Close says that severe constraints encourage creativity.  But it’s just one point along the spectrum.  Twitter caused me to say something to Horace that could be taken the wrong way the other day because I was overly concise.  Grrrrrr.  🙂

Well, I’m trying to aim a light on a big open area that’s sitting right before us just beyond reach, waiting to be explored. What will happen when we have tools that make it easy to move beyond text and words when we communicate and share with each other?

Text is the stone age, Pixar-style visualizations are the future, and the gap between the two is waiting to be filled and will unleash amazing things when the tools are available to most everyone.


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One thought on “In response to: 5by5 | The Critical Path #15: The Theater of Disruption

  1. > But we still have a long way to go getting tools that’ll allow us to visually communicate the rest of the things we can see in our heads in 3D

    I think the problem of teaching programming is slightly different than that. It isn’t just that we need to communicate a 4D model, people need to be able to *engage* with it. In fact, I would argue a 1D interactive tool (e.g., the BASIC prompt) is a much better way to learn programming than even a direct neural transfer!

    Don’t confuse richness of the medium with richness of the experience.

    In case you haven’t seen it, I consider Hackety Hack the current ‘state of the art’ in terms of how to teach programming interactively:

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