Thursday, August 30, 2007

367 Communicating Environments

Message no. 367 Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Thursday, February 15, 2007 6:47am Subject: Communicating Environments

Pat sent me an email telling me that she was enjoying listening to the audio version of Chapter 14 that I posted in the Course Materials/Course Content area as she read the chapter. She also asked about the music that accompanies the text reading. This stimulated me to write the following answer, which should be of general interest to all of you! (Thanks for the prompt Pat!)

My hope was that by reading with excitement and using music we could begin to "bring the textbook to life!"

I believe that the problem with text environments is that they are "highly compressed" -- kind of like a picture or video on the computer that you compress (zip) to send to somebody, and when they open it and try to view it large on the screen it looks all pixilated and unclear -- they call this "lossy decompression" because the image loses quality. Similarly when an author writes a book he or she usually sees great images and hears great sounds in their imagine and feels great excitement, but the act of "compressing" the ideas into words on paper loses the richness of information the author intended. When we read the text we "decompress" or "unzip" the words back into images and sounds and feelings (in our own mental environment), but it is often very hard to recover the excitement the author may have felt or intended. This is particularly true for textbooks where the style of writing doesn't include alot of DESCRIPTIVE terms (what we call in journalism "PURPLE PROSE") that bring the richness out. Textbooks thus are often "boring". By reading them with excitement and added emotional music the intent is to replace some of the lost richness.

In computer-speak we often talk of CODECS, which means "COmpression- DECompression" programs. a CODEC, like WinZip or Stuffit or any of these programs that make .zip files or .sit files (or .jpeg or .gif for pictures) takes information and compresses it so we can send it over the internet and then decompresses it on the other end. It is like squeezing your clothes into a suitcase by stuffing them in and rolling them up, and then unpacking when you get to your destination. But you suffer losses -- the clothes can get wrinkled or torn, and sometimes are permanently damaged. Sometimes, in order to pack DVDs for example, I have to throw away the plastic jackets and put all my DVDs into a DVD envelope. When I get to Egypt, I can't put my DVD's up on my bookshelf anymore. To get them back to the original way they were before I compressed them and packed, I have to go out and buy new plastic jackets and put them in. It takes time and labor to get things back to their original condition after you have unpacked right?

Books are "packed" or compressed environments. Alot of information was thrown away in order to condense thought into text. Reconstructing or reconstituting text back into thought is a difficult job.

If we have a collection of images and sounds and ideas that relate to the words in the textbook stored in our brains already, as our brain "unpacks" the book we begin to see and hear what the author intended. But very often, particularly in a new field, we don't have those materials available in our heads. So as we unpack the text it comes out dry and boring and full of holes. What I would like to do is help fill the holes by filling your heads with what I think are the kind of images, sounds, ideas and feelings that environmental psychology demands and the author intends.

This is one reason I ask you to link quotes from the book not only to your own experiences, but to images, maps, and ideas of your environment and to those of other peoples environments and to websites that contain this extra information. The internet makes this more possible than ever!

I wish I had more time to do it right --I was only able to do a little this time:

The music for the introduction I composed myself, using a program that comes free with the mac computer called "Garage Band", so it is a little more in sync with the ideas in the book, but for the rest of the chapter I just took music from my Ipod (my friend BT's album "Ima" and the soundtracks to the James Bond movies "You only live Twice" and "Moonraker") and put them underneath my reading without working hard to make them match up. If I ever get time I will compose my own music to the whole thing so it can bring out the ideas. I would even add soundeffects if I had time!

Perhaps you and the other students could try to do similar things for a midterm project. This would depend on what programs and technology you have; back in my college days I simply put a vinyl record of my favorite moody symphony (remember vinyl?) on the record player, and read what I wrote or what my book said into a cassette tape recorder (remember those!? :)) Regardless of the technology we use, the idea is to enrich our communication environments so that they affect the psychology of behavior of our recipients in the intended way.

Ultimately I would say that all environments are mediums of communication between entitites in the universe. Every rock and tree and building and car and road and table communicates something to us, and we to it. This is true on both a metaphorical and physical level -- even the law of gravity is a form of communication between the mass of an object and the mass of another object. The earth, which is huge, tells us, who are small, "I am far far bigger and more powerful than you". Because of this truth, we fall down. But the moon is also fairly large, so it can move entire oceans (the tides) telling them "even though the earth is bigger, you will pay attention to me as I circle. I will drag you with me all month long, and you will feel my pull!".

The reason most people do not enjoy science and math is because they are expressed in highly compressed symbolic languages. The scientists who wrote down their observations, like Newton's understanding of gravity A = m1 + m2/D^2 (or whatever it is -- I may be getting it wrong!) saw the relationship between objects and how they communicate and got very excited -- even poetic - about it! But when we go to read what they wrote we feel alienated and bored. What is needed is a way to decompress the formulae into the poetry of communication that the scientist felt and that the moon and the earth and other bodies express by being what they are!

The universe is alive with "talking environments" but we have to speak for them by using the tools that make sense to our nervous systems! Music and other elements of the acoustic environment are one way of doing this!

Hope that makes sense. Thanks for your kind words!


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