Was part of the talks at SERIOUS CHILLER LOUNGE in Munich 94.
STYLE AS IMMUNE SYSTEM
Was part of the talks at SERIOUS CHILLER LOUNGE in Munich 94.
If technology makes us dream of the future, it usually fullfilles the dreams of the past. Anything material and solid moves slower than the liquid changeability of our insights and desires. The still rapidly growing impact of electronic communication media are based on the notion of information as a good: a value more desirable than money, not only because you can make money with it, but because it has the miraculous quality of free multiplication: you can give it to someone and still keep it yourself. If you give the key of your house to someone else, you don't have it anymore in your hand. If you pass on your phone-number or a key-code to enter a network or a file you do not lose it for yourself. So - information seems to be made for sharing, and often we are sharing it for free. All advertisement advertises itself as "for free", at the consumer's end I don't have to pay for it. It is spread around in such abundance, that in fact I have to pay if I want to avoid it: for screening my mail e.g. or paying a higher price for publications with less commercials/advertisements.
In fact, all public places, be it cities, roads, written media or electronic networks are infested with unwanted information. Information pollution will beome as serious a problem as material pollution of the environment.
We owe this to the ambiguity in the notion of information. Information on the side of the computer means something different than on the side of the human being. Information 'c' are signs or impulses ordered in pattrens which can be perceived by a human being, becoming information 'm' i.e. potential knowledge. But this shift of information 'c' into information 'm' at the interface site is not for free: it has to be paid with the most scarce and precious thing we have: with time, with chunks of our life-time. Because we neglected this part of the deal, pollution became inevitable: information-pollution means that we are losing time and concentration, spending our scarce attention on things we did not ask for. After all, you can live every second only once. More than thieves and muggers who are trying to get my money, "they" are out there, trying to get me distracted, hunting for my time and attention. Not to spend it on worthless information is harder than to keep the money in my pocket.
Perhaps in information-theory we should introduce a parallel to the distinction made in post-quantum physics, between endo- and exo-physics: endo- and exo-informatics. Exo standing for the machine/object external side, endo on the human subject side of consciousness. We need a theory of (non-)convertibility of the two. (E.g. Georg Franck: The Economy of Attention.)
To shift form the "exo" to the "endo" side, we will also need new metaphores, changing from the machine oriented imagery to organic metaphores. In order to deal with information-pollution our mind needs an appropriate IMMUNE SYSTEM.
In order to be able to deal with inundation of information and the psychological warfare of time-thieves, we have to be more than merely rational and faster than light. That is, we have to be smarter than the kind of ratio which we imputed in our "artificial intelligence" machines. This is not impossible! We have to develop the "natural" side of our intelligence: intuition and creativity. Just like other kinds of intelligence these talents are not distributed in equal measure, but, contrary to a wide-spread assumption, they can be enhanced and developed. Of course, for this we need different strategies than the usual scholarly learning applied to the information-rationality. In fact, as we see with the creativity of children, it is rather a question of not losing it and trusting it in the thrust of main-stream education and its rationalistic brainwash, because we all have it.
Far from being an area of luxury, entertainment and esthetic escapism, the field of the arts in fact will be the only domain from which we can expect survival kits for information age. Of course I do not refer to self-indulgent artistic ego-cults, connected with art-smartness competition of the critics and big business. But the honest intuition-guided research into mind and emotion, which of course we do not only find in the arts, but "art" is one of the names for it in our society. We can also call it the research on the "endo" side of information. Novels, poems, music, visual arts and movies, and for some people philosophical and spiritual writings, contribute much more to e.g. our psychological knowledge and wisdom than all the psychology departments in the world.....
... I am getting side-tracked. What is the link between the mental immune system and the arts? One crucial connection is the notion of STYLE. Style is the fastest scanning system, when we want to distinguish between what we are attracted to and what not. What in fact is an immune system? It is an intelligent self-organized system with the unique capacity to distinguish between Me and Not-me. A virus remains a not-me, even after entering my body, while beneficial nutrient proteins become "me".
Style, viz. style-recognition is the analogue side of language (and other systems of expression). Language always has these two sides, corresponding to the two aspects of our intelligence: the discrete/digital, systematic, conventionally rational side and the analogue, mimetic and subjective side. Paradoxically, the more discrete , i.e. digital the technical side becomes, the more we will need the analogue and intuitive side of our mind, to be able to handle it. It seems there is always a balance between these two polarities. It is exactly the digital revolution, i.e. the discrete side going to its extreme, which brought about a new bias towards analogue forms of information: images and sound.
So if we go back now to the topic of information-selection and secrecy, it might no longer sound so exotic when I am saying the language of the future will be poetic and perhaps even poetically hermetic. With this I mean a language which at the one hand makes use of existing languages) but at the same time creates its own conditions for being understood. A poem is a message that is both self-revealing and self-hiding: it speaks in a way that is only understandable to those with sufficient affinity to the sensibility of the writer/speaker. It is short and dense: the relationship between the amount of signs and the impact of the message is optimal. (Of course this is not the 19th century notion of poetry as a flowery, imprecise, ornamental language but, to the contrary, the modern modern poetic diction eliminating all redundancy even at the cost of conventional correctness and effortless understanding.)
Style is also the physical, bodily aspect of language, speaking to our senses and our imagination. When the systems of communication become more and more "disembodied", without any direct physical contact of the people involved, the "physical", i.e. direct and analogue aspects of the message will become more relevant. I think it is a safe guess, from this perspective, that a sample from internet-messages or a similar system in the year 2000 will look more like poetry and art than the predominant bureaucratic jargon of the majority of letters in predigital culture. Or at least it should.