Sunday, November 14, 2004


I sat watching thunderclouds on the horizon yesterday morning. My attention would wander, and when I looked at the clouds again, they'd moved. I couldn't tell what had changed, precisely, but they'd clearly moved. When I'd stare at the clouds trying to following the shifts, nothing seemed to change.

Technology's like that.

When you track it day by day, nothing fundamental seems to be happening - in spite of the breathless hype of the evangelists. I easily become blase, and discount its importance. Then suddenly one looks back and so much has changed: hundreds of megabytes of storage in a finger-sized USB dongle, real-time hyper-realism in video games, a world of blogs.

The world's like that.

Our ability to detect change in real time is severely limited by our senses. We seem to be optimized for stuff moving at the rate of the mythical sabre toothed tiger, and blind to changes on scales longer than months and faster than milliseconds. We've developed technologies to follow those movements, e.g. historiography and sensor processing. But since we don't have an innate grasp for those time scales, it'll always require an effort of will to discern and understand them.

In most cases, we understand change as if hearing a second language.

With effort, we can become more fluent, and some people will have a knack. However, we will always speak with an accent, that is, we are at an innate disadvantage understanding slow changes like cultural shifts, and fast ones like automated hacker attacks.

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