An Organic Information Architecture

There is no form in nature, because there is no inner and no outer. All art depends upon the mirror of the eyes.
    -- Friedrich Nietzsche



In the mirror, chaos is a reflection of the logical order and the logical order a reflection of chaos.
    -- Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos


All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras, all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual values, the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ. And this organ has attained an almost unimaginable perfection; its manuals and pedals range over the entire intellectual cosmos; its stops are almost beyond number.
    -- Herman Hesse, Magister Ludi

Consider a page of a newspaper. Columns of small type detail price fluctuations, political careers, recipes -- almost anything you can think of can be found 'fit to print.' On the other hand, the larger features of the paper -- line-spacing, margins, column width, page layout, etc -- have nothing whatever to do with the article. Separate strategies (on the part of both editor and reader) apply to these 'micro-' and 'macro-levels' of meaning.

On the other hand,

"In your mind's eye, consider an ancient oak tree, solitary on the crest of a hill in an open field. From a distance you can appreciate the over-all form of the tree: the strange symmetries of the branch network, the shape and color of the canopy. As you come nearer, you notice the leaves rustling in the breeze. Strong winds have torn certain branches away from the trunk. You see faint traces of charred bark, indicating that at one point this tree survived a fire in the field. The tree is teeming with life, from the birds which temporarily alight on a branch to rest, to the ants and grubs which make a meal of leaves. We know a significant amount about this particular tree. No text. No numbers. All this information has been gleaned from a quick examination of only the formal qualities of an object: its shape, not its numbers." (1)
That is, the discontinuity between the layers of signification (representations) in the newspaper is itself an artifact, a measure of mankind's ability to focus only on one thing at a time. As every public relations person knows, however, one may lay out a page so that the graphics either enhance or conflict with (complement or distract from) the 'story,' depending on one's intentions. I believe that how we recognize and respond to such focal and peripheral cues (either as mutually enhancing and integrative or conflictual and disintegrative) is what "conveys information," and that this has real implications for our activities in cyberspace.

Admittedly, this is almost too obvious an illustration, since 'of course' distinct names are associated with the literary and graphical levels of awareness. Many other examples (2) could have been used, as the concept underlies almost every 'mode of knowledge' that is available to us. In the broadest sense, what one sees as relevant is the crux of how one recognizes friend or enemy, whether one is 'with it' or naive, whether you are members of an 'in-group' or aliens. The newspaper format is not the context of the story (nor the story the point of the layout), but how we read the paper depends on whether we accept or reject the apparent content/ contextual relation.

In the same way, we 'get the point' of a murmur, a gesture, even Gilbert Ryle's wink, when we know what it does not mean; that is, the (extensive but not infinite) context that is 'taken for granted.' We can say, in fact, that inasmuch as no datum X exists without some context, 'understanding X' can only mean tacitly accepting that context, and then discovering ('learning') that X fits the hole in the middle. (4)

Here on the E-Lekh, we aspire to represent information, and to inform representations, in a way that integrates 'natural' expectations of and familiarity with organic systems with the efficacy and symbolic focus of alphanumeric description. In this way we move, like a fantastic tree, towards the realization of a meaningful organic architecture. (At this point, you too can contribute to/ participate in this growth by sending your comments to the weib-meister, Serchan Efi Mira.)

Form

In contrast to the conventional expository use of words, E-lekh is an ongoing group exploration of the potential of writing between ideas. Stemming from a suggestion on Cybermind, a mailing list/ community, we picked out some of our 'best' posts to represent an initial plain ( as in plain text) level of inspiration. (Although almost all were part of ongoing conversational threads, it's safe to say that they had no explicit textual connection to one another.) In this glade, (imagine herbs, shrubs and forbs, each with its individual history), our tree seedling finds itself. While the light lasts, and the warmth persists, our leaflets and rootlets introduce themselves into the space -- not by strangling or crowding out the neighbors, but by borrowing idea-minerals here, lending referential-moisture there, and having a collectively good time.

Hypertext is a fancy name for cross-referencing; as the notes to this page manifest, one can 'anchor' comments, pictures, or whole pages to a single word. While such links can be found here (as 'post-production' edits), they are not intended to reflect 'thematic' or narrative continuity, but, let's say, a catalytic relation. Likewise, at the foot of almost every page are other references, yet to be 'crossed.'

The intention is not to promote yet another dichotomy of the text/ graphical sort, but to emphasise degrees of emergence or coherence. One of the first effects of hypertext is that one loses any sense of direction, because all links look the same, whether to a note elsewhere on the same page or to a different site altogether. Here, embedded links may 'upgrade' as additional responses 'grow' into a 'thread' (which will then be represented in a 'site-map') while links to others' websites are explicitly marked (by 'textual' brackets -- or are they graphical 'icons'?).


Notes

(1) Matt Grenby and John Maeda, MIT Aesthetics & Computation Group, ["Exploring an Organic Information Architecture".] That our respective implementations of the concept differ widely is itself an indication that 'information architecture' can indeed be 'organic' and satisfyingly expressible in many ways.
(2) What does one pay attention to while driving? At 15 kph, we might appreciate the roadside flowers or look for a particular house number, while at 30 kph, we must concentrate on other moving objects and anticipate their actions; that is, we look 'further ahead,' in both space and time. Again, at 45 kph, attention is paid more to patterns of motion than to any particular one. While the cognitive process is the same -- and for many, this experience of changing focus may be even more easily recognized than in reading (or editing!) a newspaper -- the fact that speed is not (yet!) quantized (and that therefore there are no separate terms for each increment) seems to make it difficult to grasp the essential point; namely, that how we perceive conditions what we perceive.
    Now, in digital or 'cyber' space, the distinctions of text and image, seriousness and sarcasm, container and contents are all 'negotiable'; one can no longer count on the author to make the points.
(3) Gilbert Ryle, 1968. [The Thinking Of Thoughts: What Is 'Le Penseurí Doing?]
(4) The variety of terms for one's relation to X suggests that the ice is beginning to thin on (this) language's ability to describe its own process. When X later becomes context for some further learning (say, Y), it is often termed 'knowing,' while when one provides X as context for someone else's attention, it is known as 'teaching Y.' Such distinctions are not intrinsic to either the datum or the person involved, but only to the perspective, the attention; that is, the dis/integrative perceptual dichotomy is at work here as well.
(5) [Considerations] on playing the Glass Bead Game. 9308
(6) Failing active plural participation, Serchan combs the archives for interesting or provocative (if not 'best') pieces, which are identified on the E-Lekh by names commencing with numerals; e.g. 4b28rm. (The 'formalism' of a website compared to a mailing list has yet to be overcome -- or understood. 9407)
(7) The E-Lekh includes a platform for participants to construct more crossings, to draw relevance out of interest.


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Prepared by Serchan Efi Mira for Hundred Flowers Publications          8730 9130 9308