Thomas Jefferson had the reputation of an extreme bibliophile, but was forced to make choices 'only' reading about 7,000 books. Ben Franklin had a similar information challenge and both men were unable to fully respond to their mail. They lived at a time when it seemed like a powerful and well connected mind could have a deep understanding of general knowledge, but that was an illusion. Information growth had become too great for single humans to manage and it had become necessary to construct filters and trust the filters of others.
Today we have something of an information explosion. Physics occupies a tiny percentage of humanity, but is sometimes citied as an extreme example of information processing. Single particle physics experiments generate information at over 100,000 times the rate it can be stored. A carefully designed hierarchy of filters known as triggers identify relevant information and throw away the rest.
Although not as dramatic as a particle physics trigger, most organizations have developed a series of filters - some are carefully considered while others are poorly understood. We might think of our social and work interactions to be well understood, but in reality they are poorly understood making it difficult to model.1
Our senses are even more overloaded - we live at the bottom of an information well that our brain partially samples and heavily filters to create an illusion, albeit a rich one, of reality. We tend to trust these personal filters, but careful science shows we are easily deluded and caution is necessary.
Filters are central to our relationship with the natural, cultural and machine worlds. Companies like Google, FaceBook, and many others build filters that may not be aligned with the user interests and it is usually impossible to understand what these filters are. Some focus on adding value to advertising and attempt to drive consumption and perceptions about our place in culture. The difference between fashion and style presents an interesting example.
Fashion is the relationship to the external. It is how you mix and match predefined pieces to show you are part of a larger tribe that is constantly in motion. It can be expensive or cheap, but is ephemeral. It allows you to distance yourself from yourself and blend into a cultural tribe. It is 100,000 people wearing the same jeans, shoes and a tshirt that proclaims 'I am an individual'.
Style is the relationship to the internal. It is about your sense of self, your identity, your perception of who you are. It is a process of introspection where you ask what is in here and reflect that in what you wear. The emphasis is on the person rathe rather than popular culture and social norms. It requires a good sense of self.
Jheri and I have an ongoing conversation on the difference between style and fashion.2 With her permission I quoted her definitions from a very long letter describing her continuing journey finding her personal style. Her body type is unusual enough that nothing fits off the rack. She described her experimentation with fashion during her teenage years as learning about 'hats, scarves and cheap costume jewelry' as well as what looked good on her friend. By the time I met her she was having clothing modified, but she was also searching out pieces that expressed her in one way or another. Pieces that would last a long time. Her closet is not deep, but her look can be striking and reflects her personality and image of herself. The image is some out of season boots that were slightly damaged. The calf width was too large, but she saw something and figured out an usual way to wear them. She also made a great coat from an old horse blanket that gets compliments in Paris and Milan.
Her definitions refer to clothing, but could describe anything that becomes part of how we see ourselves culturally. Recently some of us been talking about distinctions between fashion and style in mobile and wearable electronics down to their user experiences. The social image you present using a mobile phone in public to the 'naturalness' of the user interface of a device. There are interesting links to the increasingly divergent paths Google and Apple are taking.
Both companies have hired people associated with the fashion industry - Google for the Glass and Apple for a variety of positions. Jheri works in the industry and is familiar with a few of the Apple hires by reputation. She notes they deeply understand the difference between style and fashion. A nimble company can add a fashion layer if they have a good control of design, but going deeper and focusing on style is more difficult.
An interesting emerging between the two companies is user privacy (not security, although that is related).3 Neither model is universally aligned with the needs of all users. People say privacy is important, but most people don't place a high value on it and few understand its implications.4 The service they receive is sufficient compensation. Apple is moving to a higher privacy model taking advantage of a natural alignment as their users are their customers. The Apple ecosystem requires tight hardware and software integration and is perceived as valuable to many Apple customers - enough that they are willing to allow Apple to have high profit margins. This division will become even more important as we connect to the things around us - it is just beginning to get interesting.
Filters are a huge issue and are at the heart of our developing computer mediated interactions with each other, machines and information. We are not having a robust public discussion on the filters stand between us and information and who controls them. It isn't clear if we will have a discussion and if transparency and control will exist - even in small corners of our world. This is a big thing - I don't know if it is the next big thing, but it has major implications.
1 Trying to understand social filters and develop new filters and even relevant replacement filters is the job Google, FaceBook, OKCupid and other social platforms attempt.
2 Style and fashion are often assumed to be the same. Jheri and others in the industry make the distinction that appears in her definitions. It would be too diverting to launch into a deeper discussion than the sketch applied here, but the sociology and implications for consumption are fascinating.
3 A long discussion that would be diverting. It is important to understand the distinction between security and privacy and social, hardware and software architectures associated with privacy.
4 It's Complicated by danah boyd is an excellent introduction to teenage privacy constructs.
Topology is the study of shapes. If you have a rubbery coffee mug, you can reform it into a doughnut. A flexible sheet can't be made into a sphere... lots of fun things.
It turns out you can cut a bagel and make linked halves.
I learned about this in grad school and have made more than a few over the years. The trick is to find a very solid bagel and use a good knife. Make sure you don't stab yourself! - A friend was going to have her cello master's recital, but managed to stab herself cutting bagels during the reception before the concert. She couldn't play for over a month.
This video is much better than any drawings I could make.