Saturday, April 25, 2015
Aesthetics, Computing and the Internet
draft /. a friend has pointed out that the development of lisp needs to be elaborated upon here and I agree with him. So that will be written sometime soon, I promise....
They say that the internet is a bold new paradigm. They say that you can not judge the internet by what came before because it is totally new and those who attempt to judge it by past criteria are just not with the program and are whining uselessly. Well, indeed they might be whining uselessly, that much is true.
There are trends, patterns in aesthetics whether you know it or not, or care or not, and computing is about aesthetics from beginning to end. Like architecture, the aesthetics happen to hit the hard wall of engineering reality more often than other art forms, and indeed the engineering or construction aspects are fundamental, required, de riguere, both real and not real, but mostly real.
Nevertheless, we can perceive patterns in the aesthetics of this people's art of writing HTML just as we may see patterns in fine art, if we care to look.
In the following, we are going to discuss some of the history of ideas, which I know is very offensive to some of you more practical types. Either take a pill and calm down or go away.
Once upon a time, a generation of programmers grew up with the implied aesthetics of an experimental operating system from Bell Telephone Laboratories, an elite center of excellence in our country which no longer exists, the center that is, destroyed as it was by our government and the so-called “free market”. But at that center of excellence, an OS, later called UNIX, was developed with a minimal OS approach. A bit of the “less is more” theme going on here. True, some of the minimal nature was imposed on the work because of limited resources, but isnt that often true in art? Time passed and Unix got out into the world and then morphed into its bastard younger brother Linux, for better or for worse, that is what we are stuck with. I happen to like Linux and think it is better than we, collectively, deserve, but that is another topic.
One of the tricks about Unix was that it was designed by some of the best and brightest that our country had to offer.
Another aesthetic, which was a little busy for my tastes, was one we might call the MIT Lisp Machine style of software. This was written, it seemed to me, by hundreds of MIT graduate and undergraduate students cranked on speed, and it had many nuances, options, and so forth. Half the time it baffled me. But ultimately it was functional, well documented, and you could tell that while they might have been a little wordy and option-happy by the standards of a Unix fellow, there was no doubt that the people involved in writing, using and documenting this technology were very smart. Very smart indeed.
But now we enter the Internet age where we have vast software packages, their associated frameworks, and group sourced semi-documentation. This technology is to the Lisp machine what Lisp was to Unix, it is busy beyond belief. Every option has an option and every options' option has an exception. Whereas Linux and Lisp was designed by the best we had to offer, most of the Internet stuff, a bastard child of another project of excellence, but long ago, the Arpanet, is motivated not by excellence but by the most important philosophical principles of our great country: naked greed combined with arrogance, stupidity, ignorance and hypocrisy. There is no need to document, they say, it is all documented by the group mind. Not that there are not good parts to the infrastructure and conventions and languages and frameworks of the Internet, indeed there are. They are there along with everything else.
In other words, lest this sound too negative, the Unix and Lisp movements were movements by an intellectual elite, as was the Arpanet, whereas the Internet is a true people's movement. Rough, inconsistent, good, bad, horrible, insane, and all within a few characters of each other.
There is no order nor can there be, nor could there be, any order. It is the group fuck raised to the 1000th power. Let us embrace the new aesthetic. It may be insane but it is our insanity.