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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Disorganization

Why is it that we need things to be a little disorganized to understand them properly? Because perfect order doesn't really exist and it is most certainly the flaws that draw our gaze and make us think.

Mistakes are classic examples of disorder: an accidental paint spill, or a hand slips and draws an errant line. Perhaps they are intentional: on a whim, we decide to take a different path home, or we try a different turn of phrase or melody line so we can convey our thoughts in a novel way.

Even the need to convey disorder is useful to us. The Firm, in their song Radioactive, evoke a kind of complexity and disorder in the solo with what appear to be random notes.

In fact, I'm not sure that any perfectly ordered world would even be desirable. Consider Pleasantville: when everything is perfect, it becomes irrelevant, and the intrusion of the real world causes things to turn upside-down very quickly. To make the best music, perhaps we have to have trauma and discontent. One of my favorite of this genre is Everclear's Wonderful: childhood trauma makes for the best songs, right?

So music is clearly affected by this notion that increasing entropy is inspirational. But drawings and painting are not immune to this. Recently I wrote about the nail that sticks out, and this testifies to the effect of disorder on progress and disruption. Really, the world wouldn't be the way it is without the crazy ones.

In fact, Darwin would almost certainly agree that humans wouldn't even exist if it weren't for disorder. If DNA just replicated perfectly and everything was stable, we would never evolve. If that stray cosmic ray didn't wreak havoc in somebody's gene, we would still be amoebas. Or, more likely, amoebas wouldn't even have existed at all.

Some say that the stray rays also come from the earth itself. This is true. We have radioactive elements in the earth's crust and so they contribute as well. Trace impurities thus become central to essential change.

Order implies lack of change and therefore stagnancy. Perhaps this is why it is so seldom that I clean up my office! Yet I like to solve the Rubik's cube. This inherently is an act of finding patterns in randomness and restoring order, like solving a jigsaw puzzle.

We can see patterns and images in disorder. Little things become noticeable. Our imagination wanders. We are all looking to make sense of randomness, like when we see familiar shapes in the clouds. Perhaps it's a kind of wishful emotional need.

Let me tell you a short story. Kai Krause and I were visiting Steve Jobs to show him our recent advances in human interface in 1999. I showed the Idea Processor, which was almost all the joint work of myself and John Derry. It featured the concept of disorganization. There were stacks of unsorted pages that could overlap into little messy piles that, once they were in a pile, you could straighten them up. Or clip them together. One could be double-clicked to spread it out for perusal.

Of course, Steve instantly showed us that it wasn't scaleable. But he also made a comment about disorder. "People don't need computers to make messes. They need them to organize." That's one of the things I liked about Steve: he always got right to the point.

But, of course, it wasn't thirty days before Steve walked into our booth at a Seybold show in San Jose, located me in our press room, and set up a one-on-one meeting so he could recruit me.

When I make patterns and texture, I'm looking for another kind of disorder. Well, the patterns repeat and therefore they are by definition ordered. But they look disordered to the eye. What I want is an artful kind of disorganization that is pleasing to the eye. So once again creativity is involved in the crossroads between order and disorganization. Like in the annealing pattern above.

And once again I have applied some principles that don't seem to apply (the principle of disorganization to the process of creating order) and it leads to a creative result.

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