“Hyperlinks direct individuals through complex webs of information and ultimately dictate the type of information an individual is able to access.”—A special issue of the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication examines the role of hyperlinks in shaping and guiding our information society. Through, you know, science.
President Bush congratulating the winner of the 2006 Japanese Richard-Gere-lookalike contest, Prime Minister Koizumi. (Photo courtesy of the US government)
Did it ever strike you as odd how appropriating clothing to certain contexts is called dress code? I don’t intend to dwell on folk etymology for too long, nonetheless the underlying metaphor may serve to remind you that culture is an artifact of human interaction that manifests through a set of symbolic entities. Symbols encode meaning.
All the time we make suppositions and guesses about other people, about how they behave, how they dress, how they speak. Many of those guesses are subconscious, routing through an opaque set of filters that enable us to process several millions worth of sensory inputs per second. Our minds feature a repository of learning experiences turned into processing algorithms. It is because of this property that the sensory inputs we face are subconsciously interpreted as signals of a code.
Sometimes being called out for our own prejudices makes the structure of these filters visible. Code works only as long as both the sender and the recipient of a message are understanding symbols to mean the same thing. With shared experience comes a set of overlapping world views and thus, shared code.
What if we don’t share a code?
Exposing yourself to a new environment is frightening. We can tell that our grasp of the code may be insufficient to understand what is required of us in unfamiliar settings. Taking your first job interview is one such example. How do I dress, how do I speak, how do I behave to meet the expectations of my seniors and, perhaps more importantly, how can I make sure I understand what they are signaling to me?
Then there are the cases where we should be uncertain, but fail to be. When we feel on familiar ground and rely on the codes that served us so well in the past. This is when we fail to communicate.
In intercultural communication we might be inclined to second guess our presuppositions a little more. We know not to trust our intuition, because it is based on insufficient experience. But even if we are alerted to the fact that cultures differ and try to mind it when we communicate across cultural boundaries it is really hard to shake the false affordance of cultural code.
Let me present the following example:
Former Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi, according to current self-help books on dress codes in the US, would have a hard time landing a job in some industries favoring a conservative appearance. His curly mane does not fit with what etiquette guides tell the aspiring male bank teller to sport for his job interview. Koizumi’s flowing locks, rather, have routinely been taken as a symbol of his somewhat hippie-esque nature—even if the attribution of long hair is changing in the US and some conservatives now dare letting their hair down.
But Koizumi is no Hippie. The irony with his looks is that his haircut is indeed a symbol to indicate his world view. Only that in a Japanese context the code is reversed. After all, the samurai class wore long hair and it was the western oriented liberals of the Meiji-Restauration who forced the men of the former ruling class to cut off their chonmage.
Thus, to Japanese conservatives of the older generation a haircut that covers the ears means something entirely different from what it means to American conservatives of the same age. It says “conservative” in a particular cultural code.
Koizumi also happens to be a proclaimed fan of The King. However, in contrast to what his appearance might have you believe he has no affinity to hippie culture. At All. As a political statement Koizumi more than once visited a revisionist ceremony honoring Japanese WW2 soldiers, including war criminals.(Photo courtesy of the US government)
On Establishing Meaning and Learning from Other Disciplines
Serendipity is a wonderful thing. Once in a while branching out your network to have contacts on the fringe that provide you with insight beyond the expertise of your core truly pays huge dividends. I recommend you do the same, if you are at all interested in updating or amending the concepts you already are all too familiar with.
Anyway, I just happened upon a gem of a post that illustrates why I consider game designers a great resource for other creative professions to learn from. Incidentally it featured one of the key tenets of semiotics, if only through a solid understanding of character design. This is where experience and innovation converge: taking apart what works for others to adapt it for your own means.
Whatever you design, the following principle is true for all professions:
Do yourself a favor and treat yourself to a wonderful read how style and substance feature into character design. Best of all, J. Shea even touches on historical examples after which many a game models its characters and gives ethnological explanations of how those real world designs came to be. Just click on the quote. Maybe you’ll even find some insight of your own to take away from it.
Apple shuts out Snow Leopard users from accessing its new content creation tool via a call to the system version in the properties of the app. That means getting to use iBooks Author on SL is as easy as editing the system version requirements via the property list editor (as per my system default) or a text editor. Good to know that the Leopard can indeed change his shorts.
First, you will have to make your system purport to be a Lion, editing the system version moniker. That little act of camouflage will allow you to install iBooks Author from the app store. Having restored your system version file you need to make the app work nice with the Snow Leopard and change the system requirements in its package contents to those of your true colors.
I had some deviation from the process that digital tweaker describes because on my system I don’t usually enable admin rights. Moreover I found out that starting the app before editing its version file results in the app refusing to start afterwards. You have blown your camouflage too early, so to speak. Not to worry, trashing the stubborn app and installing it again, this time more carefully following the process, worked out fine.
So here is how getting the app to run worked for me:
Update your system so you have iTunes 10.5.3 and SnowLeopard 10.6.8 running
Go to HD>System>Library>CoreServices in the Finder and copy the file SystemVersion.plist to your desktop
Make a duplicate of the file on your desktop
Double click the file on your desktop not named “copy” and in the property list editor replace the two instances of 10.6.8 with 10.7.2 (don’t worry, there are just a few lines to see after expanding the top entry: you’ll find your way). Save. Yes, overwrite.
Drop the thusly edited file into the CoreServices folder, authenticate and replace the original file.
Install iBooks Author from the app store.
Edit the name of the duplicate system file on your desktop to say SystemVersion.plist like the original and drop it into the CoreServices folder to restore your system settings. Authenticate.
In the finder go to your application folder and right click the newly installed iBooks Author app. Select “show package contents.”
Copy the file “info.plist” from the contents folder of the app to your desktop.
Double click the desktop copy of the file and replace the value of 10.7.2 in the line “LSMinimumSystemVersion” with that of 10.6.8. Save.
Drop the edited copy back into the contents folder of the app, authenticate and rejoice. Your app should now run on Snow Leopard upon a click from the dock.
If in doubt, better ask experts! You tango with the Leopard at your own risk! The link points you to a source where more knowledgeable people than I could help:
Some time ago I pondered the way our tools shape the way we approach communication. As a case in point I compared the service that the web sensation visual.ly offers to that of Powerpoint. One serves to create infographics, the other to build presentation slides. Both are putting their users into a predetermined mindset of how to approach their task through templates that set a standard. As many a bulletpoint survivor may tell you, these standards are not always a good thing.
The people of visual.ly are determined to better the standards of visualization, I am confident to say. Having read my post they were kind enough to invite me and have me participate in promoting useful visualization principles on their blog.
What I have tried to do is distill some of the recent arguments from the infoviz community and put it into a structure that helps discussing the issue of what constitutes a good infographic in the first place. I really hope that my contribution may inspire some of you to take another look at the tools at your disposal.
A lot of sources, arguments and studies have been cut from the article to condense it to the bare essentials. I’d be more than happy to take up any loose ends in the comments.
One thing you as a presenter are probably looking to achieve is to make a lasting impression on your audience. Give them something meaningful to take away from the occasion.
I believe I found the expression of Something They’ll Always Remember through Nancy Duarte who proposes you incorporate a moment of memorable surprise into your speech. This striking moment may serve as a focal point for watercooler talk and become a hook by which people will always be able to refer to your presentation.
Now, at science conferences many talks are rather dull, with scientists being quite preoccupied with gathering the data, rather than honing their skills of presenting them live. Yet, the greatest impact of a S.T.A.R. moment that I know dates back to one such conference, albeit somewhat inadvertently as far as I can gather from the records. It has, in effect, entered the history books of scientific communication in general and urology in particular.
What to take away from the epochal Brindley Lecture? Breaching social norms can very much create a moment the audience will always remember. Planning for an audience reaction and carefully considering their tolerance for contextual breach of norms, however, may help you decide where the element of surprise turns into an element of shock. There is too much of a good thing, even with STARs.
The link will lead you to a memoir of the events that transpired on that fateful night in Las Vegas (no less!), published in the British Journal of Urology. Consider yourself warned…
Let the Games Begin: What I Learned About Gamification from the Holidays
The avid reader may remember that I have previously made public my disdain for the generic title of “what I learned about X through Y.” Now I shall need to make an exception proving the rule. This winter I really did realize something that inspired me to start a series about how games relate to communication.
The thing I learned first hand through painful experience when meeting with my family is just how bad of a board game Monopoly really is. Now, to put that into perspective you may need to either be somewhat of a board game geek yourself or at least have an appreciation of the extent to which Germans love their board games. They do. So much so that a whole genre that places emphasis on well balanced design is actually referred to as German Board Games. They are also called designer games for the cult following that some of their auteurs manage to inspire.
Let me explain why I suffered through many a session of Monopoly this winter. You probably should know that my brother and I are highly competitive. I love to beat him. Oh, how I love to crush him…
Not to get carried away let’s just say my family has always enjoyed playing games, but in one of my many rare lapses of judgement I forgot to bring any to the hut in the alps we went this winter. The place was soon engulfed in snow. There was too much snow to ski, if you can believe it. And the only board game around was Monopoly.
Against better knowledge I asked we play a round or two. Boy did I learn the hard way why Monopoly is not called a designer game. Thus, in truth, “many a session” was really only a handful, until my brother and I decided that the mechanics of the game were not crafted in a way that accommodated either of us at the table, much less both of us.
To be fair to the game of Monopoly, I would like to make the case that it actually does excel in one area that is part of game design. In the posts to come I will portrait the elements of game design in more detail but you may already grasp a whole lot about what makes or breaks a game design when you look at the successful element of Monopoly: it can teach you a life lesson. It really does captivate how futile and frustrating the struggle of the disenfranchised is in the face of an oligarchy accumulating power.
As a player you are completely taken by the narrative of capitalism and soon understand how unfair life can be. Once the dice roll in someone else’s favor at the beginning of the game, all there is left for you is to watch them take what little you had to start with, until after hours of humiliation you finally succumb to inevitable bankruptcy. Not even the dumb luck my brother has with dice, nor his acumen of exploiting favorable strategies can make up for odds that are stacked so ridiculously one sided early in the game.
Hence, in terms of storytelling, Monopoly does a great job to model an unpleasant part of the world for the players to experience. It’s just that for the two or three players watching a monopoly unfold at their expense the game is no fun at all.
Now that you have endured my lack of updates over the holidays without much complaining I’ll start things off with both a new look and a quick outlook of the things to come. For one thing I have another freebie in the works which is scheduled to complete a series of posts. Another series of essays will probably take longer to complete than the first and I don’t even have a carrot to dangle in front of you. I just hope you bear with me regardless, as I incorporate these series into my posting schedule of the usual assortment of communication related musings, insights, inspirations, rants and experiments.
Incidentally the influx of text heavy posts swayed me to switch my color scheme. Now reading those verbose essays of mine in your browser should be a bit easier on the eyes. Maybe I’ll make more thorough cosmetic adjustments in the future but for now this will have to do.
Look for the tags “gamification” and “politeness” at the bottom of my posts if you wish to follow either series. The former will provide a practical perspective on how I balance design constraints and user incentives while the latter will be a theory heavy exploration of current research from anthropology and sociolinguistics. You have been warned.
When I write about “gamification” I will actually be discussing the playful interaction of human beings in, you know, games rather than marketing buzz, but I’ll be damned if I passed up the opportunity to spice up my search engine rankings for such a sexy keyword. Seriously though, games are a great window into the inner workings of communication. After all we are looking at the way humans behave in an artificial environment under a set of arbitrary rules, both of which are created solely through tools of communication. I will take a hands-on approach and show you how I go about planning and executing a design. At times managing user incentives may look like applied psychology, which should not come as a surprise because that’s what it is to a great extent. But overall this series is going to be fun.
Reversing the “all-work-and-no-play” scenario the politeness essays are going to dig deep into scientific discourse. I will argue the case that the phenomenon of politeness is a focal point for us to study the meaning of human interaction. How do norms and social rules come into practice? When and why do we follow these rules or choose not to? How do we interpret the signs that codify conformity to normative behavior? Be prepared to be baffled at times when I go into the intricacies of Japanese honorifics or when I analyze the efficacy of swearing. The least you can take away from this series is how to be scientifically certified rude.
There you have it. I’m back to work. And I wish you all a Happy New Year!