Welcome to the home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Variance and general internet tinkerer. Most of my writing these days is happening over at Why is this interesting?, a daily email full of interesting stuff. This site has been around since 2004. Feel free to get in touch. Good places to get started are my Framework of the Day posts or my favorite books and podcasts. Get in touch.

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Binary Code and Ambiguity

There’s been a question floating around in my mind for the last few weeks and I’m really curious whether anyone has any thoughts.

I believe there is more ambiguity in our world than there ever was and I’ve got a few reasons why:

  1. We are living in the information age. No one person has enough time to read everything (even in their particular field). As a result, there are more generalists.
  2. The internet has given people access to an almost infinite number of opinions and ideas. There are any number of variations on any topic and whether someone actually consumes them or not, the awareness of multiple viewpoints is very important. In a way it legitimizes ambiguity.
  3. Digital technology has allowed us to change our definition of both space and time. When you pick up the phone to call customer service you could easily be talking to the other side of the world. In many ways, physical proximity no longer matters as much as it once did.

All three of those things, I believe, can eventually be tracked back to digital technology. Whether it’s used as a tool for research, distribution or communication, it has fundamentally altered almost every aspect of modern life.

Especially lately, this has manifested itself for me in a desire to move away from dualities (whether it’s right/wrong, good/bad, either/or). The problem is a label like that is often defined by the other side (good by bad, for example), rather than its own unique set of values. Take politics for instance, simply labeling a terrorist as ‘bad’, hardly speaks to the nuances of terrorism and I believe leads to an un-winnable war where a country tries to use hierarchical and rational techniques to fight an enemy who is subscribing to neither (they are organized in a non-linear fashion and motivated by faith).

Now onto my question. If you buy into what I’ve said so far then you believe digital technology has played a major part in the greying of the world. How then do you explain the the underlying code is binary? How did this pure duality lead to an age so rich in ambiguity?

Please help me out with this one.

October 30, 2006