Wednesday, May 31, 2017

[Yasmin_discussions] Inscribed with an Iron Tool


Roger Malina's invitation to people older than 60 to offer comments this week have me thinking.

At the moment, I am in Shanghai. China is one of the world's oldest nations — and one of the world's youngest great powers. We are in the middle of a shift in geo-political strength. Part of this has to do with the inexorable balance of power that goes to human capital. The first 9,500 years of recorded human history saw the greatest part of the world's wealth, its largest populations, and its most powerful nations in the east. This changed 500 years ago.

The reasons for this change included science. It also included empire-building, and the rare predatory capacity of the small European kingdoms swiftly to visit and conquer foreign lands that they incorporated into the new empires that would dominate the world for five centuries. That era is coming to a close, so it's a moment to reflect on the past. I wrote about some of these issues in a book chapter titled "Cities in the Information Age." You can download a .pdf reprint from URL:

When I wrote this 20 years ago, I was much more optimistic about the future of the world and the role that technology could play in it than I am now. Still, the story is interesting.

What was I wrong about? Nearly everything that the future would finally bring. When Rob Hopkins interviewed Jørgen Randers in 2012 about his then-recent book, 2052, Randers described our troubles as "… the story of humanity not rising to the occasion." You can read the interview at URL:

That's another story.

Pier Luigi wrote, "History and cultural heritage can become key elements from cultural, historical, social as well as economic viewpoints, they can act as observatories of issues which combine past, present and future, fostering new economic and professional areas."

Roger asked, "How in the [Mediterranean Rim] do we use the thinking about heritage to build a cultural memory around the medrim for the new digital communities that are now being built? How do we leave traces of what is happening so our descendants will be able to draw on our contemporary knowledges ? How do we build the new kinds of mechanisms necessary for building new systems for digital culture heritage?"

One answer to this question involves books and reading, and a lively engagement with history.

As the conversations evolve on this list, I am puzzled by the absence of any serious reference to the important work done on these topics by historians and cultural historians.

Fernand Braudel, Marc Bloch, and the Annalistes all address the Mediterranean. Daniel Boorstin's general approach to history and his specific overarching approach in The Discoverers, The Seekers, and The Creators necessarily focuses in great part on the Mediterranean.

The explosion of Greek civilization crossed the Great Green to settle on the shores of Asia and to plant colonies in the East. The Hellenic civilization that followed Alexander's empire did much the same. So did the first great flowering of Islam.

In a discussion of the Mediterranean Rim, I'm amazed to realize that no one has looked at the brilliant works of study and innovative thinking that people have written over the past century. Our entire conversation has been about technology and art today. The overwhelming focus on technological applications to the neglect of our common human heritage is a serious failing of the art-science community. Over the past 10,000 years — longer really, but I'll settle for 10,000 years — human beings have shaped the Mediterranean Rim.

I don't argue that we should replace new media with Medea. I do say that we are impoverished unless we have both.

"Oh, that my words were recorded,
that they were written on a scroll,
that they were inscribed with an iron tool on
or engraved in rock forever!"

— Job 19:23-24

There is more to life than silicon.


Ken Friedman

Ken Friedman, PhD, DSc (hc), FDRS | Editor-in-Chief | 设计 She Ji. The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation | Published by Tongji University in Cooperation with Elsevier | URL:

Chair Professor of Design Innovation Studies | College of Design and Innovation | Tongji University | Shanghai, China ||| University Distinguished Professor | Centre for Design Innovation | Swinburne University of Technology | Melbourne, Australia

Email | Academia | D&I

Yasmin_discussions mailing list

Yasmin URL:

SBSCRIBE: click on the link to the list you wish to subscribe to. In the page that will appear ("info page"), enter e-mail address, name, and password in the fields found further down the page.
HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE: on the info page, scroll all the way down and enter your e-mail address in the last field. Enter password if asked. Click on the unsubscribe button on the page that will appear ("options page").
TO ENABLE / DISABLE DIGEST MODE: in the options page, find the "Set Digest Mode" option and set it to either on or off.
If you prefer to read the posts on a blog go to