Monthly Archives: May 2006

Balancing and Qualifying

Or, Meaning, Knowledge, World-view and the kitchen sink

I’ve wanted to write about this for a long time, but it’s very difficult to express something I think is so fundamental and important. It’s like defining information architecture (let’s not go there today…).

What do you stand for? After many years of debate, angst and soul searching I’ve concluded that I’m just a confused human being. As humorous as that may sound, it’s an important conclusion. Very little is clear in my mind, but the things that are in fact clear, are irrevocable truths to me. They are the things that I stand for. Two of these things stand out and are the things I’ve been meaning to write about. The first, is that Balance Is The Ultimate Goal and the second is that Qualifying is Bad.

I wish the humor in “balance is the ultimate goal” and “qualifying is bad” was obvious at first glance, but it isn’t and that’s why I’ve wanted to but had difficulty explaining this.

We spend our entire lives being pushed in different directions, and we make lots of efforts to find what we trully love, and excell in what we do. It’s hard. It’s fun. It’s easy. It’s miserable. And it can only be all these things at the same time (and more) because everything balances everything else out; it happens despite of ourselves. I strongly believe people ruin their lives when they attempt to skew the balance (for better or for worse).

I know I do it all the time. It comes in the form of the “if only” syndrome, where you think that if only you did X, then everything else would be possible. The problem is that X absolutely does not address every aspect of your life. It can’t. One thing can’t answer all problems and questions; it is balance – a little of X, some Y, lots of Z and so on – that makes life work.

So if this fundamental truth is as straightforward as that, why isn’t it simple or easy to achieve balance? That’s because of another fundamental truth, which is that qualifying is bad.

Qualifying anything happens almost automatically for everything we do. Evaluating, comparing, judging and classifying are primary functions of our cognition. It annoys the hell out of me when people say “don’t judge”. Sorry, I can’t, I’m a human being! I can restrain my urge to express what I think (be kind, be rude, etc), but I can’t stop myself from thinking, from qualifying the world. If this is true, then why IS qualifying bad?

Qualifying something means imposing your world-view and understanding of meaning upon that which you are qualifying. Everything you know and are informs your qualification of things. “That comic book sucks”, “Wonder bras are the best invention ever”, “This theory is brilliant”, “SIGIA-L is dead”. Qualification happens across a spectrum (better < - > worse), but is often reduced to binary values (good/bad) – and that’s what inherits the qualification with a negative connotation. Note that the process of qualifying can’t be qualified itself. The outcomes of that qualification however, become artifacts in the world and will inevitably be qualifiable. Qualifying (it’s output, not the process) is ultimately ‘bad’ because it doesn’t support the initial principle that balance is the ultimate goal.

If your world-view (your understanding of the world) and your notion of meaning differs slightly from the next person, their qualification of the same thing will also differ. We can only go on without strangling each other over disagreements because we learn to compromise – and compromise means to be satisfied with a close-enough notion of your qualification.

So it all comes down to meaning. During the IA Summit, David Wienberger talked about knowledge and it was nice to hear him revisit notions of ‘truth’ and ‘knowledge’ in their classical phylosophical interpretations. The biggest dicotomy is meaning and truth – He spoke about how there is “one” knowledge, the knowledge that exists in the world – like an absolute truth – but if an individual’s world-view is an interpretation of the world, knowledge can be interpreted differently, thus meaning becomes a personal value. If meaning is a personal value, there is no “truth” or true knowledge but many ‘knowledges’; there are facts (and artifacts) in the world and there are general agreements (compromises) around them.

This is such a crazy discussion, I love it! We can talk about this from a number of other perspectives, and hopefuly we’ll be hearing more from David Wienberger with his upcoming book Everything Is Miscelaneous. I’m fascinated, however, by his difficulty coming to a conclusion. Everything I read and heard from him latelly has touched on how hard it’s been to meet the artificial deadline to have this book completed – in which he has to answer his initial question: “What’s up with knowledge?”.

My heart goes out to David Wienberger. I’m affraid it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to come to a satisfactory conclusion (for oneself, much less for everyone) because, very simply, there is no truth about knowledge and meaning (in itself, and also because there is no authority to define it). And that a conclusion about what something ‘means’ does not implicate the original question is answered (specially if there is no authority nor truth!). Maybe the final chapter in his book won’t have a conclusion, but will make the knowledge/meaning/truth conundrum explicit. Maybe it will shed some light into the double bind, mystery and paradoxes that addresses the question. I can’t wait.

Anyway, I just wanted to throw all this out in the world because it’s been sitting (or jogging around) in my brain for too long. And it was getting lonely and atrophied. Call me crazy, but call me something!

IA Summit 2006 Recordings

After much procrastination, here are all my recordings from this year’s Information Architecture Summit sessions. Please link to this post, not directly to the mp3 files.

I was sad to have to trash some of the recordings, but this year I sat with the trouble-making kids in the back, so the audio quality was not the best in many sessions. You can download the Summit Redux recordings to hear about other topics I had to skip here. It’s still amazing to me what you can do with a little iPod and a cheap microphone.

You can download slides from the Summit site and check out the summaries from Boxes and Arrows. Enjoy!

  • Opening Keynote
    with David Weinberger (intro by Lou Rosenfeld).
  • We Are Not Alone: IA’s Role in the Optimal Design Team
    with Jared Spool.
  • Game Changing: How To Transform Client Mindsets Through Play
    with Jess McMullin.
  • Business & Design BOF
    with Jeff Lash & Summit Attendees.
  • Wireframes: A comparison of purposes, process, and products
    with Todd Warfel, Dave Heller, Anders Ramsay, Laurie Gray, Jeff Lash.
  • Women, Fire & Dangerous Things – What every IA should know
    with Donna Maurer.
  • Communicating Concepts through Comics
    with Jane Jao and Kevin Cheng.
  • Addressing IA Challenges in 3rd World and Developing Contexts
    with Jason Hobbs.
  • Sorting, Tagging and Social Information Architecture
    with Rashmi Sinha.
  • Closing Plenary
    with Peter Merholz.
  • Can you help me some more?

    This is sweet. I got several emails with suggestions and recommendations. Thanks everyone! My list goes on and on, so I’ll just keep posting more things…

  • I was “nominated” for this thing called Empire Who’s Who. As I was reading my nomination letter my BS sensor came up, but I have no way of telling if this is legit or a total scam/marketing ploy. Does anybody know what this is?
  • I need a really good tailor! I’m a short woman as most latin girls are; despite of my love for high heels, every pair of pants I buy needs to be adjusted. I went on a massive shopping spree lately (I was starting to wear jeans to work too often!) but I can’t wear any of my new suits until I get them adjusted. I looked around for some tailors but I was hoping to get a recommendation rather than gambling away my hems…
  • And on the subject of high-heels… the saddest thing is when a favourite pair starts to go down the way of retirement. I’m very partial to my Brazilian shoes so I need to make the most of them. Any really good shoe repair shops in Philly, Pittsburgh or DC area? I’ll travel far for good results :D
  • Can you help me?

    As I attempt to get rid of my huge backlog of things (that-have-been-pilling-up-over-the-months) to do, I noticed I’ve been doing a poor job at delegating and asking for help. I decided to just post what I need help with over here and hopefuly you can give me suggestions and recommendations.

  • I need a financial planner with experience in US foreign national residents. This person should help me with understanding and filling tax returns, so I can move on to doing real financial planning. I didn’t file my taxes this year and had to file for an extension because I didn’t make the time to stop and understand all the nuances of the system. Last year I just paid someone to do it, but I want to understand what is it that I’m paying for this time. If you know anyone in the Philadelphia area, that would be very convenient.
  • I need recommendations for doctos in the Philadelphia area. Like I said before, I’m still learning the whole health system structure (or lack thereof, ha!), but I already have a health plan and I need to do my (tri?) annual checkup. My family will thank you and, hopefuly, the nagging will cease. ;-)
  • There is a saying in Brazil about people who are undecided that says “doesn’t know if she gets married or buys a bycicle”. It doesn’t translate very well, but I love it because shows that indecisions around things that are not comparable are impossible to solve. I have so many things on my list that I just need to get done – an executive decision, period – that it’s ridiculous. If I take care of these two I’ll sleep better at night… What’s your advice on:

  • Digital Cameras. I need portability and speed taking photos. I’m not particularly interested in photography and I am not going to spend a thousand dollars on it. I have a $30 camera that does the trick, but the quality is really sub-optimal. I want something a little better. I have seen Mark’s recommendation, but I didn’t like the camera when I held it – for this price I dont’ mind something a little bulkier for better qualty images.
  • Projector. I don’t watch TV but I watch a lot of films. I subscribe to Netflix and I have free access to every possible channel available thanks to the place I work at. I am set on getting a projector instead of a TV (because I can use it for a lot more purposes), but I have been in paralysis by analysis mode for 18 months now. I don’t have time to learn about lumens and that sort of thing. I just want a projector where I can project movies as well as computer screens at a decent quality for viewing from under 2.5 meters (~8 feet) away (my livingroom is small). I have already considered a few options.
  • That’s it for now, these are the ones that have been bugging me the most. I’ll be sure to post more. Thanks! :)

    DC IA Summit Redux 2006

    I had a great time hanging out with the DC-IA crowd this weekend talking about the sessions and experience of going to the IA Summit in Vancouver back in March. We unfortunately ran out of time and didn’t get to talk about all the topics we wanted to address, but there were very interesting and livelly conversations nonetheless. Here are a few recordings with our discussions; feel free to download and catch up:

  • IA Summit Redux Part 1 (70 MB) – Intro and Summit overview with Dan Brown, tag discussion with James Melzer.
  • IA Summit Redux Part 2 (40 MB) – Wireframes and Deliverables with Nathan Curtis (and many interruptions by Livia, ha).
  • IA Summit Redux Part 3 (65 MB) – Web 2.0 with Shelley Price, Theory with Olga Howard, International IA (brief) with Stacy Surla, final wrap up with Dan Brown.
  • Because of our time limit there was no discussion around the sessions on content management, business & IA and international IA. I was bummed that we didn’t get to talk about Business & IA because that’s what I was planning on reporting on, but I might write a bit about that later.

    BONUS! I still plan on editing the rest of my recordings from the Summit (as soon as I find the time), for now, you can enjoy the 2006 IA Summit’s Closing Plenary with Peter Merholz.

    Don’t forget to check out the Summit’s original presentations and posters.

    Please don’t link directly to the mp3s, link to this post instead.