From the Boidem - 
an occasional column on computers and information technologies in everyday life

April 26, 2000*: on putting the Boidem to work

I won't count them now, but I'm quite sure that numerous times in the past I've noted that these columns are essentially a labor of love. There is no monetary remuneration involved in producing them, and often the time involved in preparing them is time that I have to steal from budgeted projects which may not necessarily deserve more attention, but are certainly able to command it. When I've written about that, however, I've presented a somewhat one-sided picture of my relationship to these columns. I haven't written about how they've been helpful to me on numerous occasions.

To a large extent I've actively seen these columns as an opportunity to focus my thinking about various internet-related topics. Rather than being a framework for "thinking outloud", they've been an arena for "thinking in public". And even when there has been only minimal feedback, the refining and polishing that I've had to attend to before I allow myself to post a column has been a positive experience. If something has been posted here, I've pretty well thought it through.

So? So though it may go against the rather heroic and self-sacrificing image that I allow myself to present as the maintainer of this project, I have to admit that the material developed here can be a springboard for additional projects. A couple of articles that I've written in Hebrew started out as Boidem columns, as have at least part of a couple of lectures, and a number of classes that I've been involved in have been (to my mind at least) enriched by a number of insights that found their first expression here.

To a certain extent this is an example of a favorite project of mine that essentially for technological reasons hasn't found expression in the Boidem: Copy and Paste as a Way of Life. While in that presentation I try and show how the creative process is primarily one of using existing materials as a jumping off point for generating new ways of looking at things, here it's more simply a case of repeating myself, but in places where I haven't been heard yet.

It's probably inevitable that a certain amount of recycling of the materials that I use takes place. That in itself is neither surprising, nor even particularly interesting. Neither is, I might add, the fact that I get away with using them again and again. On the other hand, what is genuinely fascinating is the way in which these materials seem to assume a different character when used in different settings. Often, they seem to have a life of their own, sort of like the characters in a book who are "set free" by the author and are then liable to start behaving "out of character".

A number of factors probably influence the behavioral changes that these materials assume. Three of these that come to mind are primarily structural, related to the framework in which the ideas are being expressed, while a fourth seems to spring from a basic and fundamental aspect of the way in which we interact with our ideas.

Materials that I've originally prepared in English relate, for rather obvious reasons, to an English network of associations. Though the words themselves might find clear and precise translations, the network of associations that give rise to the words and spring from them are often very difficult to translate, and when I try and to do so I discover that the difference in languages calls forth different associations that require me to dress the ideas in a different wardrobe. And though I don't want to be accused of believing that "clothes make the man", when I meet these ideas in different dress they seem to take on a different character.

The Boidem is, by choice, an almost exclusively textual medium. When I make presentations I ordinarily make use of the overheard projector and integrate into them various graphic elements. People expect this. They don't want to sit and watch someone talk for an hour, and even when the graphics are no more than a poorly conceived and highly derivative PowerPoint presentation, I have to cater to my public. And here, as with the difference in language, the inclusion of a different medium causes me to change my emphasis, or look at a particular idea from a different angle.

Lectures, and most published articles, are not hypertextual. The columns in the Boidem try to be. Sometimes the hypertext is forced, as though I have to search for something to link to. But I tend to think that after almost four years of writing these columns I've developed a more or less successful (or at least workable) framework for playing with ideas and the associations that can, and sometimes do, spring from them. I'm most aware of that when I try and convert one of these columns into a linear article. All of a sudden I realize that what at first seemed to demand a rather cut and dried process of editing, blossoms into an almost totally new rewriting. Though both are textual, and to the inexperienced eye it might seem that linking is no more than a simple embellishment on traditional writing, I find that the simple intent to include links in a columns creates a different sort of focus in the writing. Perhaps paradoxically, four years of Boidem columns have, to a rather large extent, been devoted to examining and perhaps even proving this claim, yet even with a great deal of experience with this medium, I continually discover this basic truth anew each time I try to convert a column into a linear presentation or article.

Structural reasons aside, there's one more element that has to be remembered. Perhaps it's easy to overlook because it's so obvious. Our thinking and learning process is one of interacting with our environment and with our significant others. We converse with ourselves, and sometimes take on the character of others in these conversations as means of trying to figure out how they might react to various situations. Thoughts are not finalized, tangible things, but rather a process. The tangible character that we give them when we write them down is somewhat of an illusion. They may have assumed, for a moment, concrete form, but they are without a doubt in transit. I discovered recently that I've used the same title, or subtitle for two different articles I've written, at a distance of about a year between them. The subject matter of the two articles was similar, but not really overlapping. On the other hand, my metaphors, the ways in which I organized my thoughts about these two topics, were apparently culled from more or less the same sources. My thoughts, like everybody else's, are in flux. I don't return to a column after I've posted it in order to update it and make it more in tune with my current thoughts. I respect it as the way I saw things at a certain point in time, and move on, making use of it and other insights that I've gained since.

Ultimately, it's a reciprocal relationship. I started this column intending to review some of the ways in which I've been able to make (sometimes even lucrative) use of the ideas that have been planted and developed here. I hope that I've succeeded in doing that. But in order to do so I've had to put a couple of ideas that have developed in my presestations and other writings to work here. Something would be wrong if I didn't do that sort of thing.

That's it for this edition. Reactions and suggestions can be sent to:

Jay Hurvitz

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