Apropos of nothing, one of the best pieces of advice Meg ever gave me was to impart a big lesson she learned as an english major writing fiction: show, don’t tell. When writing a story, don’t talk about how bad a character is, write a scene where they do terrible things and the reader will come away with the point you were trying to make.
Now, me not being an english major and not having to write much fiction, I didn’t think the advice would help. Over the years though, I’ve noticed it comes up in a lot of things aside from writing fiction. I think about it when working on my resume or portfolio, when I wrote the realtor description for our last house, and whenever I met someone for the first time. I’m highly dubious of people that tell me a lot of amazing things they have done but have little to actually show for it.
Show, don’t tell. It crops up time and time again and is some of the best advice I’ve been given.
Why do we forget our childhood? is an interesting look at how language helps forge long lasting memories, or at least, is necessary to retrieval. I’ve heard this hypothesis before from cognitive scientists and I was never fully convinced of it until I thought about the problem with an operating system metaphor.
When we’re born, imagine all our thoughts and memories are written and stored as simple BASIC programs. We’re just getting the hang of storing memories so they’re not long term. Imagine we have no media and everything’s in RAM, as it happens.
10 PRINT “CRY LOUDLY”
20 GOTO 10
A few months into life and we move on to encoding everything in MS-DOS. We can’t really get at the very early programs anymore, but we’re doing ok storing new ones that can describe more objects.
By the time we reach two years of age our increased complexity requires an upgrade. We’re running an early BSD form of unix in our heads, storing memories filled with words, sounds, sights, and smells.
By the time we’re five years old, we’ve done our final upgrade, to OS X. Just like OS X, if you open a terminal and type out a BASIC program it won’t run, and so we can’t retrieve those early memories stored in BASIC or DOS. But we can pull some of the most straightforward of early unix code we wrote when we were 3 and 4. From here on out memory storage and retrieval is fairly straightforward and though it’s sometimes difficult to pull something out of a decades old archive, it’s still possible.
Ok, maybe I took that too far. Still, it’s how I explain childhood memory storage to myself and helps me understand early childhood development.
I often have dreams that feature technology ideas, but I don’t always remember them and more often than not they’re just goofy ideas. This morning’s dream is somewhat in the goofy category but might be useful to some, and since I remember all of it in detail I’ll relate it here.
So I’m stopping by Andy‘s office in Santa Monica to go have lunch (I think I was on a roadtrip in my dream), and while he steps away to grab his jacket I notice there’s an IM window scrolling past with loads of text. When he gets back a few seconds later I ask him what that is, and he says he’s watching the Simpsons over IM.
I say “you’re doing what? how?” and he explains it, and this is way more detail than I normally remember in dreams, but I thought it was such a cool idea I think I kind of “saved” it so I would remember later. So he goes on, explaining how he built a chatbot that is wired to a stream of TV closed captioning, so you add captionbot to your buddy list, then talk to it. You ask it what’s on TV right now, and it returns a list of shows, you pick a show and it starts streaming out dialogue from characters, directly via closed caption data. “It’s like watching a show in text” I say and then we go off to lunch.
And that’s all I remember. Andy built a really cool text adventure bot last year, and TVeyes is basically Technorati for TV (though they predate Technorati by several years), searching caption histories for words or phrases. I doubt you can get real time caption data and I’m not even sure if reading a tv show would be interesting, but I figured I’d share the dream with everyone, in case someone feels like building it.