Some Thoughts and Observations on Humanistic Intelligence and Mediated Reality

After talking to a lot of other interested students and reporters, there's been a couple of really good questions asked, and, now, having taken some time to roll them around in my head, I've put together some personal observations based on both personal experience the cogent and persuasive arguements of Steve Mann, and discussions with Will Waites and Eric Moncrieff. I'll probably keep adding things here as the occur to me. Here's a couple of them:

Q: If WearComps become widespread commercial items, wouldn't it be hard for the average user to learn Linux or how to use a WearComp? Wouldn't using a more popular OS be logical?

People are expected to take time to learn to do important things. Many years are spent learning how to read and write properly; similarly, basic maths and sciences are studied for several years; one reads manuals and practices before one gets a drivers license and I've heard in some areas of the world, a mechanics license is required to drive. If one is proposing, then, to use EyeTap for such a relevant task as altering their perceptions of reality, then it only makes sense that one would want to invest some time and effort into learning how to properly configure and manipulate their WearComp. It may even seem ludicrous to attempt such a large task without having at least a basic working knowledge of how to run a WearComp. You needn't be a Linux expert to use a WearComp to get by in the same way you needn't have perfect mastery of the english language to communicate effectively, but a working knowledge is essential. Wouldn't it be nice, also, if the term 'computer literate' came back to meaning a familiarity with the underlying principles of operation of a computer rather than how to, say, set margins in some commercial word processing software.

Q: Won't wearcomps just barrage us with spam information and make us more slaves to the machine than we are already?

I've been reading some of the posts on slashdot and people seem to be both very enthusiatic about wearable systems, or lash out against this idea- seeing it as another geeky way to enslave ourselves to machines and barrage ourselves with spam information.

I see the latter reaction as symptomatic of a commercialized computing paradigm where end users feel a loss of control - and rightly so. I thought it funny that while I was in my third year of the Engineering Science Computer option program here, that I really didn't feel that I knew what was going on on my own desktop, which was running Windows95 at the time. Lets face it - all the meat and potatoes of control and understanding have been abstracted away by the point and click 'easy to understand' GUI, and what's worse - all the internal mechanisms of the machine in the kernel and OS are hidden away in a LOCKED black box labelled PROPRIETARY.

Thus, reverse engineering your OS, or obtaining source code is the only way to learn. However, any attempt to do such learning is literally criminal. Are you afraid of the 'thought' police? Well I think they may be already here - under a guise of 'user friendly' systems marketed to calm a public's fear of learning how to use computers.

Last fall, when I had to install Linux on my home PC for Prof. Mann's Personal Cybernetics course, I LEARNED so much about how OSs/networks and software really does work. No - I didn't have my machine up and running right away displaying a calming blue sky and a friendly font. I had to read numerous HOWTOs, hack away at problems, talk to others. It was hard and I loved it because in those few months, I felt I had finally taken control and understood the workings of my PC. Learning how to use a computer finally meant learning how computers and software works - not just which pull down menu to use.

But, anyways, back to the issue of enslavement:

We run Linux on our WearComps because central to the theme of humanistic intelligence is the notion of PERSONAL EMPOWERMENT. Someone on slashdot raised a good point about being slaves to our pagers/cell phones already. Both such things are closed architectures - we don't really control them in the same way we can't really control a proprietary, closed OS. When one dons a WearComp, however, one is given complete and absolute authority and control over their own digital space. A wearcomp acts not only as a constant point of contact with cyberspace, but also as a constant filter to cyberspace. You can literally decide what you want to see and don't want to see. This doesn't seem to be the Orwellian/Borg like society some people fear. Rather, individuals are empowered to take control over their digitial surroundings, and take control of their communications with others.

People are also concerned about industrial use WearComps in offices/factories turning people into cyborgs slaves. Again, I think the central theme of personal empowerment deals well with this concern. When WearComps are worn 24/7, they really do become an extension of your thoughts/mind and body. Using such things in commerce to control people would be like madatorily asking people to install a third arm in their chest which can only be controlled by the company. Who would do such a thing? Who would dare ask? As long as users have complete autonomy over their bodies and their wearcomps, then I don't think this is a problem either.

Is a wearcomp just a geeky way for people to always be playing with computers? Well, it could be if someone wanted it that way - and it they did, fine, its their choice. More importantly, however, is the fact that since wearcomps are aware of the user's environment, their role is to aid the user in their primary task. A wearcomp is less demanding than a desktop, since the role of a wearcomp is to aid the user in doing whatever else they may be doing - like walking around looking for an address or meeting people at a party. Thus, computing is no longer the primary task. When one sits down at a desktop computer, one's primary task is to use the computer, and it requires all the user's attentivness. Thus, wearcomp actually frees us from the 'geeky', always in front of a CRT paradigm of computing.