Dialectic interlocution

The monopoly of judgment, and an audience whose epistemological role has been reduced to zero, lead to a dogmatic conception of discourse and knowledge. It is through an interlocutor who both questions and answers that equality among the participants is realized. If a listener assumes only a passive role and is content with being merely the recipient of the speaker’s ideas, then we can hardly speak of a relationship between equals or of a relationship not based on authority.

Meyer, Michel. 1995. Of problematology : philosophy, science, and language. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 76-77

From §2 Dialectic and the Hypothetical Method as a Reaction to the Socratic Logos of ch. 2 “Dialectic and Questioning.”

This entire section is excellent and demonstrates Plato’s turn from the Socratic question to answers, in that questioning cannot lead to knowledge (per Plato).

But for me, this quote is primarily in regards to dialogue and the equality of participants in the conversation.

[Originally posted about a year ago at: http://commonplacing.posterous.com/dialectic-interlocution ]

Documents ala Brown and Duguid

Among many things relegated to history’s scrap heap by relentless futurism have been, …, paper documents. Here, focus on the information they carry has distracted attention from the richer social roles that documents play—roles that may sustain paper documents despite the availability of digital ones. … …, we believe that documents, like other older technologies, probably will not be replaced (when they should be) or augmented (when they could be), if their richness and scope are underappreciated (xix-xx).

Argues that until we understand what documents do—physically and culturally—we will not understand what they are and how to replace or improve them. A narrow focus on the information that documents carry will fail to result in useful change.

Documents not only serve to make information but also to warrant it—to give it validity. Here again, the material side of documents plays a useful part. For information has trouble, as we all do, testifying on its own behalf (187).

So documents do not merely carry information, they help make it, structure it, and validate it. More intriguing, perhaps, documents also help structure society, enabling social groups to form, develop, and maintain a snese of shared identity (189).

Documents then contribute not only to forming and stabilizing the worlds but also, …, to reforming, destabilizing, and transforming them. The presence of heretics reminds us that the “information” is not the sole contributor here. The orthodox and the heretics both form around the same information or content. They are distinguished from one another by their unique disposition toward that information (193-4).

The political scientist Benedict Anderson provides yet another example of the way groups form around documents. He considered networks so large, so diverse, and so spread out that individual members could not possibly know one another. They nonetheless may develop a sense of membership and belonging if they can create an image of the group as a single community with a single identity. Anderson described the communities as “imagined” and claimed that shared documents play an essential part in this imagining.

Anderson argues that such a document culture made a key contribution to the creation of independent nations (194).

Ch. 7 “Reading the Background” provides excellent examples of what documents do, of the social roles they fill, and of the societies that they help to create.

On the issues of fluidity versus fixity of documents:

But fixity serves other purposes. As we have tried to indicate, it frames information. The way a writer and publisher physically present information, relying on resources outside the information itself, conveys to the reader much more than information alone. Context not only gives people what to read, it tells them how to read, where to read, what it means, what it’s worth, and why it matters (201).

On why more information is not the answer to problems with information:

The word context comes from the Latin cum (with) and texere (to weave) and etymologically suggests a process of weaving together. And document design weaves together the clues we have talked about to help readers read. No information comes without a context, but writers and designers always face the challenge of what to leave to context, what to information. The ease, availability, and enthusiasm for information often shifts this balancing act in favor of information. So, as noted in chapter 1, when there are problems with information, the solution offered is usually to add more. The history of documents and communities points in the other direction—toward less information, more context (202).

From: Brown, John Seeley, and Paul Duguid. 2002. The social life of information. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.  

[Originally posted about a year ago at: http://commonplacing.posterous.com/documents-ala-brown-and-duguid ]

The Glass Box And The Commonplace Book

The contrast here suggests to me that we have two potential futures ahead of us, where digital text is concerned, or that the future is going to involve a battle between two contradictory impulses. We can try to put a protective layer of glass of the words, or we can embrace the idea that we are all better off when words are allowed to network with each other. What’s the point of going to all this trouble to build machines capable of displaying digital text if we can’t exploit the basic interactivity of that text? People don’t want to read on a screen just for the thrill of it; even with the iPad’s beautiful display, reading on paper is still a higher-resolution experience, and much easier on the eyes. Yes, the iPad makes it easier to carry around a dozen books and magazines, but that’s not the only promise of the technology. The promise also lies in doing things with the words, forging new links of association, remixing them. We have all the tools at our disposal to create commonplace books that would astound Locke and Jefferson. And yet we are, deliberately, trying to crawl back into the glass box.

As with paywalls, I am not dogmatic about these things. I don’t think it’s incumbent upon the New York Times or The Wall Street Journal to allow all their content to flow freely through the infosphere with no restrictions. I do not pull out my crucifix when people use the phrase “Digital Rights Management.” If publishers want to put reasonable limits on what their audience can do with their words, I’m totally fine with that. As I said, I think the Kindle has a workable compromise, though I would like to see it improved in a few key areas. But I also don’t want to mince words. When your digital news feed doesn’t contain links, when it cannot be linked to, when it can’t be indexed, when you can’t copy a paragraph and paste it into another application: when this happens your news feed is not flawed or backwards looking or frustrating. It is broken.

From: The Glass Box And The Commonplace Book at STEVENBERLINJOHNSON.COM

Speaks to the impulse, the desire, the need to be able to do what we will with words and ideas, whether our own or those of others. Nowadays, as technology advances further towards allowing us to more fully and easily put texts into conversation with each other, those same technologies are being used to prohibit all but the barest consumption of the text itself. [I despise the idea, or perhaps moreso the image, of texts in conversation as it is the individual human, alone or in concert with others, who holds that conversation. But it is a useful expository shortcut.]

[Originally posted about a year ago at: http://commonplacing.posterous.com/the-glass-box-and-the-commonplace-book