Last year I had the immense pleasure of meeting Alan Kay for a Skype conversation as part of my Meta Medium work. We talked about a range of topics covering design, HCI, tools, and software. One thing he said stayed with me:
Are ideas made of matter, or are ideas made of light? You can shine as many spots on the wall as you want, and they all superpose; they all sit there. A designer is a person who tends to treat ideas like light. They don’t try to resolve them in the current context.
How could we move from thinking in matter to thinking in light? from classifications to signifiers? Shifting from focusing on objects on pedestals to, the lights that shine on them.
Many aspects of design are the ability to keep incompatible things in your head at the same time without having to fight each other or trying to resolve it.
This liminality feels scarce in an overly connected, gradually automated world. The tendency to modelize–create an all-encompassing metaphor–is a pursuit of absolutist knowledge. It is system thinking made into an artifact. There are wonderful blog posts, pieces worth reading, summarizing whole fields, or universal human behavior into a simple metaphor. And there is a great deal of discourse on ideas of thinking in public, and new waves of blogging. But what I wonder is if we will be able to think publicly in liminality?
I have a sneaking suspicion that the cybernetics, combined with binary communication (Shannon, 1948), has led to a bias towards shipping oneself, which is unnecessary, and that COVID exposed its redundancy. You need not be a product; you need not ship yourself. There is no shelf to fit on, as long as you can own, and explain the positionality of your creativity. There is no point in seeking complete knowledge, through frameworks, or a “big idea.”
There is a need to find signifiers, the different lights that make on your ideas, and the lights you shine on others. There is no need to create more things to put on more pedestals. It is wasteful: in natural resources and creativity. Meeting in the process is generative; meeting in product is transactional.
A call for incompleteness.