The Twitter Zone and Virtual Geography

My previous post on the 50-foot-rule led to an interesting exchange with reader tubelite, which led me to a more sophisticated appreciation of the idea behind twitter.com, and introduced me to the interesting ideas of Dunbar’s number and the Monkeysphere. After mulling the straggling exchange, and starting with tubelite’s insight that the 50-foot zone is really a zone of random background social noise, I came up with a map of modern virtualized society. At the heart of it is the new form of the 50-foot-zone, the twitter zone. Here’s the map.

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Open Innovation, or is Business War?

The catchphrase of Henry Chesbrough’s work on innovation (a doctrine called “open innovation” and described in Open Innovation, 2003, and Open Business Models, 2006), is “not all the smart people work for you.” The key operational message that corporations seem to take away from it though, is “buy and sell intellectual property vigorously and throw some money at universities.” Somewhere along the way unfortunately, a sophisticated reconstruction of the logic of innovation becomes reduced to quick-money recipes. Part of the blame rests with Chesbrough himself, for raising and framing a very important subject, but then being somewhat timid about running with the idea to some daring conclusions. In this article, I am going to rush in foolishly where, apparently, Henry Chesbrough fears to tread. I’ll interpret the idea of open innovation as business is not war, and you’ll see where that line of reasoning takes us. [Read more…]

Digital Philosophy – I: The Real is Unreal

In a previous article, I reviewed some of the troubles ailing superstring theory, as chronicled by two prominent and articulate discontents. Among the more radical suggestions for fixing physics is to get away from continuous models altogether and ask if the universe is fundamentally a discrete entity in some way. Proponents of this view — called digital physics or nearly-equivalently, digital philosophy— take on not one but two terrifying tasks. Not only must they reconstruct centuries of physics built on top of calculus (a fundamentally continuous sort of math) but to finish the job at a satisfying level, take on continuum mathematics itself and reconstruct it in discrete terms. The debate has relevance even further afield, to questions about the nature of consciousness. I’ll talk about three books that develop this approach in an accessible manner, and about one formidable one that I think confuses the issues in pointless distracting ways.

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Ten Years in America

According to my passport, as of August 5th, I have lived in America for 10 years. Somehow, no profound thoughts occur to me. When I try to look back, no grand ethnographic synthesis or thick description suggests itself. Perhaps all the profound observations about America have already been made by Alexis de Tocqueville and the The Simpsons.

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The Parrot

This piece was written in Ithaca, in 2005, and is as accurate a phenomenological report of an actual mental response to real events as I am capable of. At the time I thought — and still do — that a very careful observation of your own thoughts as you react to sensory input is a very useful thing. Not quite meditation. Call it meditative observation. Stylistically, it is inspired by Camus.

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Book Review: Blue Ocean Strategy

I don’t usually write strongly negative reviews of books, because most of the time, when you encounter a bad book, it is usually obviously bad from page 1 on. Intelligent readers don’t need help figuring that out. Blue Ocean Strategy is a bad book, but it is not your usual bad book. It is a dangerous bad book because it takes some thinking to figure out why it is bad, despite its success, and despite the fact that its key metaphor of blue ocean vs. red ocean has made it into the business lexicon and titles of innovation projects. This means that harried workers and managers, even really smart ones, who digest this on a short plane ride, might very well be led down very dangerous paths by it. So here is the first ever skewering of a book on ribbonfarm. Call it a ritual sacrifice. If you already read the book and didn’t find any serious flaws, read on for a detox course. If you haven’t read it, I hope I am able to turn you off. If you still insist on buying it, please use the affiliate link on this page, so at least some good comes from it. A better use of your hard-earned money might be buying me a cappuccino when you are done reading the review. Or buying one of the alternate recommendations at the end.

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July 2007 Roundup

The first month of operation turned out to be pretty exciting. Ribbonfarm.com went from zero to 17 articles at a brisk average pace of just over an article every two days. The business, economics, philosophy and thinking themes saw the most development, which sort of surprised me, since I’d assumed I’d be able to develop the science and technology themes the fastest. Here is an article-by-article overview of the action, with highlights of the comments section, and for those of you prefer listening to reading, my first ever experiment with podcasting. The podcast provides an overview commentary of the first month’s activity on the site, and also has a sneak preview of upcoming action. It’s going to take me a while to learn this game, so you can have some fun sniggering at my umms, aahs and run on sentences in the meantime.

July 2007 Roundup (22 minutes, 20 MB)
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The Fifty-Foot Rule Reconsidered

I have heard cited several times the so-called fifty foot law of sociology, which says that most collaborations happen among people who work less than fifty feet apart (the idea is generally credited to Tom Allen of MIT; the primary reference seems to be his monograph, Managing the Flow of Technology, MIT Press, 1977, which I admit I haven’t actually read). Let’s generalize and assert that most relationship interactions happen among people who live/work 50 feet apart, plus or minus an order of magnitude, say 5-500 feet. This being a probabilistic, phenomenological law, it should be interesting to mull how it is changing in Tom Friedman’s flattening world, and to what extent lives are getting transformed in terms of changes to this law.

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Breadth-Depth Metaphors and Beyond

We commonly use a set of dynamic spatio-temporal orientation and observation conceptual metaphors to talk about knowledge, its communal organization, and individual styles of knowing. We use depth-versus-breadth to talk about track records and abilities, “long-term” versus “short-term” (and “upstream/downstream”) to talk about intentions and decision-making, and “big-picture” versus “details” to talk about the scopes of discourses. All these will come up for critique and more analysis as I continue developing the themes of this blog. But I want to start off this fresh new week with a question for you to ponder: how do you organize your view of knowledge, and how much faith do you have in your organization?

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Framing the Consciousness Debates

What David Chalmers calls the “Hard Problem” of consciousness has been among the main reasons I started this blog. If you view it honestly, it is the last remaining fundamental mystery and, were I to be as extreme as Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus, I would go so far as to label it the only problem worth studying (Camus said that about suicide though). I meant to segue into this topic slowly, by first posting reviews of a bunch of relevant books as anchor points for my views, but blog readers have an unsettling habit of jumping the gun, and derailing the best-laid roll-out plan with untidy comments. So here we go. I’ll frame and circumscribe my approach, state my axiomatic commitments, bluntly partition the landscape into the relevant and irrelevant, and we’ll get set for exploring the Last Great Mystery.

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