Sitting in an afternoon panel at SxSW today I started a post on how I thought my panel in the morning went. I was thinking, gee, it would be nice to have a transcript when I looked up – literally to the guy sitting in front of me – and goddamn but he had one up on his screen.* I asked where he got it. He said, “Oh this is my site. I type fast.” And that is the essence of SxSW.
My panel? Oh it was on a concept that I didn’t really agree with. In fact, neither did my co-panelsts, David Pescovitz of Boing Boing and David-Michel Davies of the Webby Awards. Standing in line as we waited for our credentials a staffer looked at the title of our panel “Convergence and Transformation: A Whole New Creative World” and said quite disdainfully “What in the hell is that?” I shrugged. Sometimes that’s the best panel to be on though.
It was actually a lively discussion. The consensus from the panel was that it is not technology that is converging – tools diverge and proliferate to suit new tasks, after all – but that there is such a thing as convergent experience and in fact human beings crave experiences that unite, filter, and simplify – the more so in the face of multiplying tools, features, and media.
My particular take on the issue was to suggest that designers draw lessons from evolutionary biology. At the species level and above life does not converge at all. And in the rare case that it does – as with the horse and the donkey – it yields infertile life forms. There’s no convergence below the species level either, but there is certainly recombination, genetic in this case, which you might think of as a simultaneous divergence and convergence. A philosophy of recombinant design, I offered, is one where experiences are allowed to emerge by virtue of the remixability of your offering. Or, put differently, recombinant design is design as if your goal was to make designers of your customers. Consumer-as-producer, DIY media. Not terribly novel, I admit, but then no one threw me off the dais either.
[*} Not verbatim. I talked a lot more and made a lot less sense in reality.