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Prospect APRIL 27, 2010 - by Brian Eno
APPS FOR A BETTER WORLD
Since I spend a portion of my life making music on a computer, I keep an eye on new software. Until recently it's been fairly predictable: digital versions of existing procedures, like echo and reverberation, "dressed" to look like their analogue antecedents.
But not long ago I downloaded (free!) a group of sound-processing programs designed by the New Zealand composer Michael Norris. When you're working digitally it's not actually sound you're processing, but numbers - it doesn't become sound until it leaves your loudspeakers. Norris's software performs mathematical operations on the numbers and the results can be relentlessly unmusical... until, after fiddling with the mysteriously named controls ("alpha stretch," "bin shift," etc), you hit a sweet spot where something magical happens. The software makes no attempt to emulate any familiar forms of sound-manipulation - and makes few suggestions as to what you might expect. It's an open platform; a kit of possibilities for the user to explore and build something with.
This seems to be the dominant theme of much current design. When the iPad appeared recently there was some confusion about what it was for. But if you think of it not as a finished product but as a platform from which users can launch their own tools - as they did with the iPhone, for which there are now nearly two hundred thousand applications - then a whole new world opens up.
This set me thinking about mySociety, and organisations like it, which offers ways for you to find out about what's going on in government and how to connect with it, without telling you what to do with that knowledge. The assumption is that government can only get better by drawing more creative intelligences into it - that's us, you and me.
As Kevin Kelly, of Whole Earth Catalog and Wired fame, says: "Everybody is smarter than anybody."
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