Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Languaging Reality Into Existence, Recursive Mutual Understanding, and the Internet

Probably the most influencial professor I had at U. Penn was Klaus Krippendorf, a radical constructivist and designer. His classes Social Cybernetics and The Social Construction of Reality Through Language were the bane of many of my fellow Communications students because they required a massive paradigm shift just to understand the material (and pass the semester!)

We tend to grow up believing in an external reality made of stuff that we label and talk about to others. An objectivist believes in that firm distinction between what's in our head versus what's (allegedly) outside. A constructivist, on the other hand, believes that distinction is ultimately irrelevant, because reality itself is brought into existence in each person, shared incompletely through coordination with others and society as a whole. As Krippendorf suggests, we language it into existence.

I found this speech of his, given at a symposium called "Connected Intelligence; Human Beings in Information Systems" back in 1997. He writes:
I believe we have gone seriously wrong in describing the digital revolution in terms of this notion of information. We are no longer the 17th Century Cartesian beings who were conceived of as busily accumulating disinterested knowledges by mapping their outside world into the interiors of their minds. We live today. We interface with sophisticated technologies of our own making. We continually language new worlds into being, and we participate in the worlds of others. For something to be information, it must make a difference in our lives. I hope to show that this difference does not lie between the inputs and outputs of information systems or media but in the co-ordination they initiate and sustain.
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posted by Brian at 4:25 AM

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