Definitions & Rules in Technology

Another, the first, of Richard Emerson’s interlocutors in his “Rebalancing the Future” podcast series was ex-GP writer James Willis. His “Paradox of Progress” and “Friends in Low Places” were books I reviewed very early in my own journey, and reviewed again when PoP was re-released earlier this year. We’ve been “fellow travellers” riding pillion on Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and culminating recently in us both finding great value in Iain McGilchrist’s “The Matter With Things”.
(I talked with Richard on these and more last week.)

Early in this conversation on the “paradox” of James’ title, so much reminded me of what had originally resonated with me. You’ll find rules and definitions are regular – and deep – topics of mine here on Psybertron.

Obviously science-led technological process is wonderful, but the paradox is that the way it gets implemented can so easily miss or destroy important human value, and even our humanity itself. (This is a very old sentiment, as old as any romantic resistance to classical science – “we murder to dissect” etc.)

If we implement rules and definitions and best-practices of “experts” in technology in such a way that it constrains what humans can do, ie by physically enforcing rules definitively, we’ve taken away their / our humanity. Accountant managers rarely value this cost-disbenefit.

From me:

Most recently “Definition as a Coffin
Back in 2013 “Hold Your Definition – Dennett
And, the hazards of writing rules around definitions – definitive rules – has formed the basis of my “Rules of Engagement” for even longer.

Rules are for
guidance of the wise
and the obedience of fools.

A long-standing agenda item, that still deserves a considered essay from me is “Good Fences” mentioned earlier in both the Dennett Definition and Definition Coffin links above. There are good reasons to have definitions (fences around things) but even better (identity politics) reasons to understand why these should be respected, but never treated as cast in stone – or “cast in silicon” to use James’ computing version.

There can be no doubt James’ words have been an important inspiration to my own work for two decades.

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