Monthly Archives: July 2006

Is code beautiful?

This week, I thought a lot about beauty and sublimity in technological production. I am coming back to Winner’s idea that the sublime is the moment of imagined potential but also the moment of imagined terror. Nuclear reactors and surveillance technologies hold this moment, the moment when the world will either be much better or much worse. But there is another kind of beauty, too — one which I don’t think I yet understand. The informational equivalent of the perfectly designed glass carafes at the Louvre, in the tiny hot room on the way to the Venus de Milo. The mysteries of computer code, embedded and enfolded upon itself.

My problem is how to see that as beauty – it is so abstract and distant. I feel almost that saying code is beautiful is like saying that the insides of a refrigerator are beautiful. Of course they are beautiful for those who know how a refrigerator works, but it is hard for us to consume them as beautiful objects in the way that we consume the carafes at the Louvre – as aesthetically lovely outside of their functional capacity. My question is, for those people who maybe sometimes read this blog but never dare to comment, how can we see that beautiful (or elegant) code is beautiful?

Collaborative uses

Another conference, at the west end of France, in Brittany. Hosted by a great friend and colleague, Michel Briand. Michel, like most of us, wears many hats, but he manages to make being an activist, the assistant mayor of Brest, and the Dean of Students at ENST Bretagne look easy. He also owns (half) a wonderful boat, and took all of us Wikigraphists, Colibristes, and erstwhile sociologists out for a tour of the harbour. Milles mercis Michel!!

The Forum was characterized by an interesting mix between very techy types, the “monde associatif” (more interested by organizing people, money, and projects than technology), multimedia and net artists, and some scientists, social and otherwise. I wasn’t supposed to present anything, but did an off-the-cuff introduction to ISF’s WiFiDog, as well as an unplanned intervention on my work for the LabCMO.

I had some great conversations about the limits of public WiFi in France, met some artists and researchers, and now feel I understand much better the issues and problematics the inscribe “public space” here. Meeting people who deal with public funds and public policy on a daily basis always helps to move beyond the abstract. The Forum did a particularly nice job of making obvious the connection between free and open content, especially multimedia and art, and greater accessibility. But sometimes it felt hard to pull the thread together: between the people who just wanted to teach, learn, and keep their banlieue offices solvent, and those who wanted to integrate new functionalities into their VJ kit. But maybe it’s all part of making things together.