Heins Q+A: We should not think of mobile computing as a desktop on your tablet. "We've got to think beyond that point."
The communications theorist Marshall McLuhan observed that “we look at the present through a rear-view mirror”. And that “we march backwards into the future”. Amen. Remember the horseless carriage?
Ah yes, that thing that seems like a carriage, but moves on its own internally combusted power - yet whose oomph is still measured in horsepower.
The Internet has been a lot like that - it gets used to do old tasks in a different way before digital natives begin to see the Net not through the lens of past usage needs, but that of its potential.
It's no big secret why and how this happens - the bulk of our brain is tasked with storing information and filtering new stimuli through the lens of the familiar. If it looks like a carriage and moves like a carriage, then surely it must be a carriage?
That's why metaphor works - it allows us to fill in the margins of something unknown without the harder task of grasping something new. The associative process also allows us to use new tools in old ways - if it's heavy like a hammer and solid like a hammer, you can use it as a hammer.
Look at the pictures below - what do you see?
Sometimes a cup is just a cup - would these two folk agree?
Does this face look like an Eskimo - or does the Eskimo look like a face?
If you look, you can see the face of God all around us - but who created who in their own image?
Optical illusions are created by our brain; not by the world around us, but through our interpretation of it. Stop-motion animation pictures never moved - our brains simply filled in the gap. This ability to associate the basic characteristics of differing things is extremely useful. Particularly in life-or-death survival situations there's value in being able to quickly differentiate potential threats from opportunities or what can be used as a tool/weapon, as needed.
Innovation, however, isn't about determining the value of what exists already - it's about creating value-add. It's a more esoteric skill that isn't necessary for bare-bones living, but the ability to create something new out of things that have come before is fundamental to social and technological evolution. It's the accumulated whys and what ifs that help us understand the potential of a thing and to combine ideas and create something entirely new.
Like using a horse for transport. Or using wheels and a platform for transport. Or better yet, using the horse to pull the wheeled platform so that we are free to do something else, or to do more. Heck, mabye this new contraption could even carry us. Presto! You have both the carriage, specialization and the origin of civilization.
Until we evolve out of the limbic brain entirely, the challenge of balancing an understanding of things based on what we know versus identifying their potential applications will continue. We can weigh the consequences of stigmatizing the unfamiliar versus exploring its advantages when we are calm, focused and in balance. The more we butt heads, so to speak, between these two cognitive functions, the more polarized we become, leading to an expanded gap between our progressive and conservative selves.
When these two halves are in conflict, not balance, it's like gunning the engine of your horseless carriage while the break is still on - you're expending energy just to stay in place.