Re: Beyond Access and Impact: The Ultimate Benefit of SkyReading/Writing

From: Arthur P. Smith <apsmith_at_APS.ORG>
Date: Sun, 25 Nov 2001 23:02:23 -0500


   very interesting (and it explains a few things...)
Just one thought on this - the tone of the article seems to indicate
there is some ideal or best mode of communication, or use
of our capability for language; among other phrases that indicate
this I randomly chose one here:

On Sun, 25 Nov 2001, Stevan Harnad wrote:
> [...] But let us not forget that in exchange for those virtues of the
> lapidary medium (writing) we sacrificed some of the virtues of the
> labile one (speaking), particularly the possibility of minds
> interacting at the speed of thought. Could one have the best of both
> worlds?

But doesn't our experience over the millenia imply that new media
or communication forms, while improving upon and even "revolutionizing"
our previous capabilities, rarely if ever actually displace previous
forms; rather do they not primarily add to the range of communication
forms we make use of? And all to the good, I believe. Did we actually
"exchange" speaking for writing? Speaking may have declined a bit,
but scholars still "interact at the speed of thought" in a wide
range of informal settings from the laboratory and institute level
to slightly more formal settings at meetings and conferences;
yes, still mostly through the medium of speech, though email and
other interactive technologies are now a part of the mix.

The fact that we have some interactions "at the speed of thought"
surely does not preclude the simultaneous necessity for use of
other communication media with much longer interaction times, or
little interaction returned to the original author at all. Even
with speech, compare the content of a conversation with that of
communications in the "oral tradition" (or in modern terms of the
contrast between a scholar's informal conversation with colleagues,
and the formal presentation in a lecture, particularly to students) -
what is being said is generally very different. In most general
terms the content in the former case is inchoate, still being
formulated, and the scholar is looking for feedback to try to form or
refine a coherent logical structure; in the latter case the logical
structure is fixed, the content is (whether right or wrong) essentially
final, and the primary purpose is to communicate those conclusions to
the audience, whether immediate (in speech) or remote and future
(in writing). And even in this latter case there are a wide range
of contexts making slightly different media suited to slightly different
versions of this communication purpose (preprints and theses vs.
published articles vs. review articles vs. textbook/historical/trade
literature descriptions of some new set of concepts).

Trying to modify the written medium to suit the needs of the former
purpose (and possibly erode the suitability for the latter) seems
quixotic at best... Having Stevan's (and the rest of our) thoughts
spread across a thousand pieces of email with selective quotes,
replies, rebuttals, and novel thoughts interspersed almost randomly
makes this a very difficult medium (at least for most of us) to
track what has been said, what is actually new, etc. Even Stevan
finds himself forced to condense bits of the conversation into
summaries, FAQ's, and lengthy articles that repeat some or all of the
major points. But are important things being missed here? How
can you know without reading everything? Having each participant
provide more formal statements summarizing their own perspective
seems essential to containing the essence of the debate in manageable
form - but there's no way that can be done "at the speed of thought"
and so we're back to our old ways after all?

                        Arthur (
Received on Mon Nov 26 2001 - 09:11:56 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:46:18 GMT