Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Things You Don't Understand Always Seem Intangible

In an excellent essay on software patents, Paul Graham makes the point that things "always seem intangible when you don't understand them". I agree 100%. Why do I bring this up? Because 'information', which my PhD is about, is something that everyone thinks is intangible, and I don't think it is -- and I think the reason it appears intangible is the one Graham cites.

This is the relevant part of Graham's article:

Experts can implement, but they can't design. Or rather, expertise in implementation is the only kind most people, including the experts themselves, can measure.
In a footnote to this he says
Design ability is so hard to measure that you can't even trust the design world's internal standards. You can't assume that someone with a degree in design is any good at design, or that an eminent designer is any better than his peers. If that worked, any company could build products as good as Apple's just by hiring sufficiently qualified designers.
Back in the main text he goes on to say:
But design is a definite skill. It's not just an airy intangible. Things always seem intangible when you don't understand them. Electricity seemed an airy intangible to most people in 1800. Who knew there was so much to know about it? So it is with design. Some people are good at it and some people are bad at it, and there's something very tangible they're good or bad at.

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