New and News

Alan Kay draws a distinction between “new” and “news”. News feels like new information, but it is set up to require very little new processing. It has to be understandable in a minute or two, because it plugs into our existing categories.

Things which are truly “new” to you don’t work like news.

You can’t teach a person calculus as “news”. It wouldn’t make any sense. You can have that person go away and learn calculus and come back in a year or two, and now you can have a conversation about it. *Then* you can do news.

It doesn’t have to be a two-year project like learning calculus. There are moments where we shift perspective and suddenly truly get something new. I (Mike Caulfield) had read Vannevar Bush’s “As We May Think” half a dozen times, but did not see (and could not see) the core difference from the web we have. I read it as news, without understanding it was new, and so I didn’t see it. And then one day I did.

The tragedy, says Kay, is we consume all this news but we don’t really get anywhere new. As creatures we’re much better at coping than learning, so we constantly choose “coping + pain” over learning something new.

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