by Stephen Downes
Apr 06, 2017
I am more or less a post-modernist, though I arrived at my understanding of the core ideas independently of the authors cited in this article (though on reading them find myself nodding in agreement). So I appreciate this clear and articulate description of postmodernism, and the argument offered against it. And I am sympathetic with the observation that the postmodernists did not exactly make their position clear. To me, it is clear, but you have to step through a rhetorical mess to get to it. It's a bit hard to do in one paragraph, but let me try:
Let's take the criticism offered by Erazim Kohak to the effect that "tennis balls do not fit into wine bottles". How is this not a fact? he asks. On observation, it is easy to see that tennis balls do fit into wine bottles, but the context here is of trying to squeeze it into the bottle through the opening. Now what has happened here is that the problem has been framed in such a way as to allow only one way for a tennis ball to 'fit' into a wine bottle. But why would we frame it that way? Why do we privilege Kohak's description of tennis balls and wine bottles and how one fits into the other? Once you ask that question, you become a postmodernist.
This short post is a restatement of something from Steven Sloman that has appeared numerous times in these pages over the years: "Humans have built hugely complex societies and technologies, but most of us don't even know how a pen or a toilet works. How have we achieved so much despite understanding so little? Because whilst individuals know very little, the collective or ‘hive' mind knows a lot." To make this work, though, is to walk a fine line. Yes, there is the "fundamentally communal nature of intelligence and knowledge," but we can create it only if we interoperate as autonomous individuals.
This is the sort of stuff I've been working on recently. This is a particularly useful project: "here’s an example of how to get a browser based application up and running on EC2 using vagrant from the command line." The description is pretty detailed and is probably not for everyone. But the main point here is that this type of server virtualization is the wave of the future - and (more importantly) is what will enable the next wave of personal web presences (I'm not really sure what to call them - more than sites, less than applications).
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