Marshall M. and the introduction of the phonetic alphabet in culture, or, the rupture between signifier and signified.

“The phonetic alphabet did not change or extend man so drastically just because it enabled him to read; as you point out, tribal culture had already coexisted with other written languages for thousands of years. But the phonetic alphabet was radically different from the older and richer hieroglyphic or ideogrammic cultures. The writings of Egyptian, Babylonian, Mayan and Chinese cultures were an extension of the senses in that they gave pictorial expression to reality, and they demanded many signs to cover the wide range of data in their societies — unlike phonetic writing, which uses semantically meaningless letters to correspond to semantically meaningless sounds and is able, with only a handful of letters, to encompass all meanings and all languages. This achievement demanded the separation of both sights and sounds from their semantic and dramatic meanings in order to render visible the actual sound of speech, thus placing a barrier between men and objects and creating a dualism between sight and sound. It divorced the visual function from the interplay with the other senses and thus led to the rejection from consciousness of vital areas of our sensory experience and to the resultant atrophy of the unconscious. The balance of the sensorium — or Gestalt interplay of all the senses — and the psychic and social harmony it engendered was disrupted, and the visual function was overdeveloped. This was true of no other writing system.”

Krishnadas, a beacon of hope in the City that never sleeps

I’ve posted/instagrammed pictures of him in the past, he’s the guy with the placard that says “Live your live with virtue, fulfill your duties, love everyone.”

 

A friend of mine sent me this link to a short documentary about him, check it out here: 

 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4S20Zi7tsIA?wmode=transparent]

An alternative model for strategy – or, strategy as making the most of uncertainty

There’s strategy and there’s strategy.

There’s strategy as approach and raison d’être (belief) and there’s strategy as a template for getting you from point A to point B (behavior).

With business strategy, which comes under the second, we often have chess used as a parallel.

But chess starts with a premise of an equal distribution of resources.

Good if you’re playing a conceptual ceteris paribus game down to zero-sum/someone must win.

Bad if you’re looking at notions of innovations, lateral thinking and meaning-making.

Maybe a better model for business strategy is Scrabble. The pieces you get are a matter of chance, and what you do with them is based on your knowledge, ability to improvise, and your ability to maximise your points-scoring opportunities while minimizing your opponents’.

Leaves more room for black swan events, with a touch of wei qi. Also leaves more room for meaning-making (go beyond win/loss, and look at the possibilities the mechanics allow.)

Just a thought.

Marshall M. and the Playboy Interview

sometimes I feel I grew up too fast. I read this first when I was 15, I think. Way too early to begin to understand hope and despair, the temporal and the eternal.

Then again, having lived with McLuhan and Baudrillard, Camus and Sartre, Derrida and Levi-Strauss for a decade already, my analytical is a razor sharp intuitive.

If you want to ever look at understanding McLuhan, good place to start. Start at the end. This.

“I expect to see the coming decades transform the planet into an art form; the new man, linked in a cosmic harmony that transcends time and space, will sensuously caress and mold and pattern every facet of the terrestrial artifact as if it were a work of art, and man himself will become an organic art form. There is a long road ahead, and the stars are only way stations, but we have begun the journey. To be born in this age is a precious gift, and I regret the prospect of my own death only because I will leave so many pages of man’s destiny — if you will excuse the Gutenbergian image — tantalizingly unread. But perhaps, as I’ve tried to demonstrate in my examination of the postliterate culture, the story begins only when the book closes”

– Marshall McLuhan

Rest of the article here: http://www.nextnature.net/2009/12/the-playboy-interview-marshall-mcluhan/

Google’s Plus Paradox

I was in the middle of the Rajasthani desert last week, and something occurred to me about Google’s product strategy, which I figured would be good to note down. 

Now, this is a completely intuitive reading, so bear with me.

Now, for the average user, the core proposition of Google is its search algorithm. 

When you think about it, Google (its consumer-facing side) works best in a client-server / 1-1 relationship with its consumers.

You ASK Google to find you something.

You ASK GMail to save and store your email.

You ASK Google Maps how to get from point-A to point-B.

You ASK Google Translate what “I love you” translates to in Spanish.

Even looking at products like Android/Chrome OS, Chrome or YouTube – they are all primarily consumption/use-focused.

At a corporate level, Google is fundamentally still a search company. Their vision, one should keep in mind, is “to organize the World’s information and make it universally accessible and useful“. Their revenues are also derived by-and-large from their core search product.

Google’s purpose, its relationship with us, is to keep our data organized, to answer our queries, to help us do stuff. And Google does this better than anyone.

Which brings us to Google and social, and its two initiatives – Google+, and +1.

Now, with Google+ none of the features I have seen, certainly, seem particularly intuitively “social”.

I would argue that they are designed rather for computers to keep things organized than people. We know that (a) the algorithm does a good job in understanding what kinds of data-sets are privileged in what kinds of contexts (perhaps too much?), and (b) that Google has a strong belief and foundation in machine-learning/statistical-learning.

Having used Google+ for a bit, I found that stuff like Circles, for example, was not particularly intuitive. (I have three lists on FB, and data shared is pre-set, and almost never customized. If I need to communicate with a smaller group, there’s groups or old-fashioned email for that — people like to segregate behaviors across networks when it comes to dealing with various groups, not aggregate them onto a singular network.)

But Circles, with the numbers using Google+ for the first time (regardless of the fall-off) gives Google new “connections” / “groupings” to work with in understanding what data is valued in what context.

And how does Google+ tie into Google’s “business” side of things? — i.e. Search Revenue? It doesn’t quite, especially if, as a few Google executives have said, it’s not directly competing with Facebook at present.

What then, is the utility of + to Google? I believe it’s two things.

1. Google+ gives them new relationships between data-sets to parse and understand (via Circles), and 

2. And this is the big one – +1.

I don’t post much to Google+ any more, it’s extra effort for nothing — I have an established behavior on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Flickr, Instagram; and Google+ doesn’t unearth or prescribe any new need/behavior/desire to connect.

But I’m more than willing to add a +1 to articles I like (which I may not necessarily RT, because it’s worth the read, but not important enough to share — same with Like.) 

And this of course ties into machine-learning. +1 gives Google a more qualitative feedback on what data-sets (sites/pages/stories/products/etc) work, and what don’t.

And it ties into how Google has transitioned, over the last decade, from showing you top results based on what everyone was searching for, to showing you top results based on what your friends are searching for.

Which, when you think about it, is the social recommendations (that you might otherwise post to facebook asking) but in the client-server model, with Google still your gateway to whatever you might be searching for.

Google+ may well be a broader reorganization of Google, the backbone linking its various products to its core product – search. Not so much a social network. And maybe that’s a good thing.

Well that’s my 2c on the subject. Comments, feedback, inputs, suggestions much appreciated. You can drop me a line at aditya dot anupkumar at gmail dot com, too.