Friday, August 16, 2013

Can 30 year old ad copy make you cry?

Although I haven't yet discovered any new Electronic Arts ads, like the one that I blogged about earlier, check out what I did find, in the September 1983 Scientific American...

Click for big ideas
Yup, the original.  Bagged in the wild, two months prior to the appearance of the Bill Budge follow-up ad that I posted earlier.  Its full text is archived HERE by Chris Hecker, who was kind enough to link to my previous post.

Is it a coincidence that my nostalgia for this heady era of "retro-computing" shares similar space in my brain with a love of fantasy role-playing games of the same era?  My own (still-unfinished) contribution in that arena is called Homebrew '82, after all.  What the two things share is a fierce Do-It-Yourself ethic that may still exist in some places, but has been largely supplanted by many more people that are happy with just buying stuff and using it OTS (off the shelf) or playing it RAW (rules as written).

Yes, yes, I know.  "In my day..."

But there are other, possibly more timeless, connections.  The EA manifesto above says that what they're after is "Something along the lines of a universal language of ideas and emotions."  But how is that any different from this...?
I suddenly realized that in the language, or at any rate in the spirit of the Glass Bead Game, everything actually was all-meaningful, that every symbol and combination of symbols led not hither and yon, not to single examples, experiments, and proofs, but into the center, the mystery and innermost heart of the world, into primal knowledge. Every transition from major to minor in a sonata, every transformation of a myth or a religious cult, every classical or artistic formulation was, I realized in that flashing moment, if seen with a truly meditative mind, nothing but a direct route into the interior of the cosmic mystery, where in the alternation between inhaling and exhaling, between heaven and earth, between Yin and Yang, holiness is forever being created.
That's Hermann Hesse, from The Glass Bead Game.

That's what I still think is possible to create, now, a mere 30 years after Bill Budge put on that silly leather glove and began to remake the world.  Computers may help make it easier to accomplish, but they're just tools.

Let's get building!  :-)


  1. Indeed,"Software worthy of the minds that use it"...they're not talking about superfluous, addictive gadgets and cybernetic enclaves, but about new possibilities of existence. It is a frontier you speak of here.

    1. Thanks, Geo. My worry is that it's harder for "regular" computer users to explore this frontier these days. Have you seen the TV show "Futurama?" There was an episode where they went to the Moon, and by the year 3000 it had been turned into an uber-sanitized "It's a Small World After All" type of experience. But it's only when they busted their way out of the ride that they got to see the real deal... :-)

  2. I like the idea that technology can bring us deeper understanding. I worry, though, that the fragmentation of media which the technology has enabled is pulling us all into more narrowly defined corners. What we need, I think, is something to grant us all more open minds. I don't know if you can do that with tech.

    1. Yeah, the danger of niche-ification (is that a word?) is a big one right now. We only see what we've let through our filters... and soon we forget the filters are there. I suppose one remedy could be the rebuilding of broad "networks" that give us shared experiences and (with the help of wise editors) expose us to things we might not have sought out on our own. I put "networks" in scare quotes because I have no idea if they'd resemble things like TV networks or other media empires of today...

      I've recently changed my web-surfing habits a bit, in the hopes of moving in that direction. In short: fewer blogs, more aggregator sites like io9 and boingboing. The amount of silly stuff I ignore probably hasn't changed, but I am delighting in discovering more new things.

    2. I think the idea behind media is to unify but the effect tends to run in the opposite direction. I believe I've told you before that the technological singularity is a most compelling counterfeit, yes?

      Also, that nostalgia for more than one thing of a certain period is mysterious. It could be meaningful, though. I wouldn't be so quick to write it off with the broad sweep of 'back in my day.' Think it's worth exploring further.

    3. We've talked about transhumanism and the strange eschatologies that spring up around the singularity, but I don't know if I've heard your above assertion so starkly. I'm skeptical about it, but the whole "let's eliminate death" thing is deeeeeeply compelling.

    4. Right, of course! But I think our technologies actually lock us in to the ready-made filters and braces, if you will. The spinal cord and the brain are like putting glasses on, very peculiar lenses through which to view 'reality.' Nuit? I think this is the Thelemite term. Hadit is the Oversoul (just throwing around terms with which we're both familiar enough so that actual communication is facilitated) and this is what our technologies purport to achieve. Again, not assigning any particular intent on behalf of the technologies rather that their designers project on them a capacity meant to be realized through a far more enigmatic and hence scary process of, yes, precisely death! Death not as an end but as a gateway and also a broader definition, the million tiny death blows to identity as we experience it--not the way our technologies serve it up, as a sort of conforming, molding force but in the liberating sense.

      'Do not be conformed to the patterns of this world but be transformed, by the renewing of your mind in Christ Jesus.' It's from the book of Romans and, after everything, I still think that's where it's at. There's the kernel. There is a Christ-form, a divinity, we are meant to assume. Our technologies are the most compelling, the most aggressive and the most elegant thrust in that direction. But they're still a counterfeit.*

      *Disclaimer: these are simply my beliefs. But I am getting stronger in my capacity to articulate and hence stand by them.

    5. If technologies are a counterfeit, then what are the alternatives? Achieving it in this life is one, of course (Buddha's nirvana under a tree). I wish I had faith in the objective existence of some kind of "soul stuff" that doesn't need a physical substrate, but that's just a step too far for me right now...

      It's been a while since I read Greg Egan's two books about these ideas -- Permutation City and Diaspora. (Others of his probably touch on these ideas, too, but I haven't read them.) If I make a perfect software "copy" of my brain, and start it running in a robot with perfectly serviceable eyes, ears, limbs, etc... does that thing have the same subjective awareness that "I" do? The transhumanists are probably divided on the answer, but they all would say "Let's find out!"

    6. Go ahead and try, I would say to them. You can't grasp the apple and not eat it. I know that sounds almost cruelly cavalier but it is what it is. I'm not a dualist. Let me make that clear. It's something else and I haven't cogitated on it since some time in 2011 and right now it's waaaay too late for me to try. It'd be earnest pontification, at best. :)

    7. It's only 4:30pm where I am, and I'm too tired for philosophy, too... Hopefully these thoughts will be the black loam from which new insights will someday sprout! :-)