Ontologies, Social Research, and Technology Design

A quick pointer to a fascinating and exciting discussion by Berkman’s Ethan Zuckerman of Ramesh Srinivasan’s work on cross-cultural information technology design. Here is a teaser:

One of the key tools in Srinivasan’s toolkit is the ontology, which he describes as a structured way to examine “theories of what exist”. Describing the world in terms of hierarchies (i.e., a plant is an example of a living thing, has characteristics including leaves, roots and flowers, requires light and water to produce food, etc.) is, Srinivasan, a western construct that’s not always how a community considers local knowledge. But Srinivasan believes we can learn a great deal about how communities think about knowledge both by trying to structure their knowledge into ontologies and by understanding how they traditionally structure their knowledge.

To illustrate this idea, Srinivasan shows us some alternative ways to map physical space. A map from the Qiche tribe in Peru is radial, not Cartesian. The image of a crocodile is an Aboriginal map, a visualization of the song lines that criss-cross an area in rural Australia, a drawing of a God as well as a practical map of the landscape. Srinivasan wonders if we’re creating technologies that are this diverse, or whether we’re facing a world where most technologies are produced within one conceptual and value system and exported. Continue reading

Joel Agee Essay on Memory, Memoirs, and Fiction

An army of truth tellers has conquered large numbers of the dwindling faithful who still read books. Confession, in print and on TV, is fast becoming the primary public mode in which human interiority speaks and is heard. The self-avowed lies of fiction are no longer in fashion. Everyone is writing memoirs. Subjectivity and imagination, it seems, are slipping the border into the non-fiction columns, where they live as quasi-illegal aliens, poorly housed among the facts, performing thankless but necessary labors. Continue reading

Network Effects, Read-Write Cultures–Thoughts on Lessig Lecture

On Friday, the University of Washington hosted a free lecture with Lawrence Lessig, nominally a Stanford law professor but in substance an articulate, compelling, and engaging writer and speaker on issues relating to creativity, intellectual property, and politics.

In spite of the melba-toast texture of the topic, “Is Google (2008) the New Microsoft (1998),” what an engaging and (unexpectedly) empassioned talk it was. Continue reading