THE OPPOSITE OF X IS NOT Y, IT IS Q. (Thinktool #17)

Ben Taylor said, elsewhere on this blog: ” I like your Johann Hari connection (I had tweeted this article from other sources with the pull quote

“the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety; it’s human connection.”

(You can find the Hari item, and Ben’s comment by entering ‘Hari’ in the search box over there on the top right. There should be only two results, unless I have mentione JH before and forgotten)

There’s a famous quote from Brian Sutton-Smith:

“the opposite of play isn’t work, it’s depression”

I riffed on that, earlier this year, like this:

“the opposite of quirk isn’t cool, it’s oppression”.

(The concept of quirk in playwork comes from Bob Hughes and Penny Wilson.)

It seems to me that this construction is enormously valuable (when it works!).


Let’s call it the ‘opposite isn’t’ thing. Its fun to do. and bloody difficult.

It seems to me that it depends on a genuine, hard-won insight. It functions like a parable, a zen teaching story, a Mullah Nazrudin story, an Irish joke, a Jewish joke or one of my dad’s stupid stories about a bloke training a monkey. Or a haiku. The thing about haiku is that there are two kinds: the haiku* and the desk haiku. The desk haiku is the haiku you get when, like a columnist with copy to file and a deadline, you sit down and go “Hmm, what shall I write a haiku about”, whereas the haiku* is the kind you get when you witness something fleeting in the world, like a kingfisher, or a fox, or a baby flipping from a cry to a laugh, or a rainbow, or four big lads after closing time crossing the road with great intent shouting “Oi mate, mate, you dropped your wallet.”

This ‘opposite-isn’t’ is a fun thing to play with. Have a go. Here’s mine: “The opposite of employment isn’t unemployment, it’s purposelessness.” Hmm. I’ll gove that 4/10. (I didn’t mean to type Gove, the previous Tory minister of Education, and yet…) It is clearly a desk ‘opposite-isn’t’, not a ‘genuine, hard-won insight’, so only four Marx out of ten.

Over to you, readers.

FOOTNOTE: Haiku*. The temptation is to say ‘original haiku’ or ‘real haiku’ or ‘authentic haiku’. Twas always thus. A distinction emerges, and it changes. It undergoes memetic warping. If we are comfortable with that we might say ‘old-school’. If we aren’t we might say ‘New Labour’ or ‘so-called New Wave’. Stuff happens. you can’t fight it. What you can do is make the distinction, when a distinction is called for.

SECOND FOOTNOTE: just heard this one on Radio 4: “The opposite of truth isn’t lies, it’s euphemism”


Fascinating. Astonishingly bad translation into English though. Not blaming the author who is probably not a native English speaker. Am blaming the publisher. Besides taking the weird file slinging it on the web and charging me 25 quid to read it, what exactly do you people do to, as they say, add value. A suggestion: hit some editors, good ones and pay them well. It is difficult enough understanding new research and thinking without having to also simultaneously translate from gobbledygook into English. Again no blame to the author. You, air or madam, have been done a huge disservice by Emerald.

But despite all that,


This is a lovely techno koan ”I was…

This is a lovely techno-koan:

”I was struck last week when I saw a colleague pecking away, very quickly, with two fingers on his computer keyboard.  I asked him about it and he told me that he had recently taken a course where he had learned to touch type.  The course had been very good and he had learned to type at 30 words pre minute.  But with his two finger pecking he typed at 60 words per minute. His plan was to continue to practice his touch typing, until it was fast enough to switch over.  Of course if he switched over now, he would be touch typing even faster, sooner, but at the cost of the learning curve frustration.”

And if my blogging chum had left it there it would’ve been great. But he wouldn’t let it lie, and so the next sentence is of the dreaded ‘And you know, that’s a little bit like Jesus isn’t? ’variety. You can read the whole thing if you follow the link below.

Now, I’m aiming his koan squarely at a Mancunian author of my acquaintance who hasn’t moved on from the ‘smartphone-stabby-stabby-grunt’ stage. Typical. Young people, eh. Perhaps there’s a kind of Pareto thing going on, where if you invest only 20% of the 20% you need to get to the 80% of the lovely usability of the device–because you can’t be bothered and you’re in a rush and you need to just use it and you’re not a geek–then you remain stuck in the stabby grunt frustration, irritation, ‘bloody stupid thing’ phase. No discipline, no gumption, no stick at it no deferred reward, More importantly perhaps, I say pretentiously and portentously, we can observe another rule of what Neil Postman calls ‘Technopoly’:

Battram’s 6th Law of Technology: the smarter the phone, the dumber the user can be until something bad happens.

I read somewhere recently of the incredulous response of a young woman, asked what she would do if she had an emergency and her mobile wouldn’t work. What do you mean if my mobile won’t work? She could no more comprehend that possibility than she could the idea that the sun might not rise. Powerful ju-ju.

Apple’s Siri personal assistant technology, nearly working and available now, though officially still ‘in beta’, promises Jeeves in your phone. But what happens when Jeeves isn’t there?

Bertie is in trouble when Jeeves goes on holiday. 
On a trip to Brinkley Court, Bertie finds himself 
surrounded by former fiancees and old adversaries. 
Bertie looks set for a troublesome time…

Siri being ‘in beta’ is unusual for Apple, unlike Google who keep most of their applications in beta long after they have been released and sorted out. What does this portend? My guess is that the betaness of Siri is more than just a Google-style early unfinished release. I think Apple are acknowledging that this sort of application can only be developed in a co-evolutionary loop with its users. So now we have an application that assumes another characteristic of all living systems – a ‘structural coupling’ as Maturana might term it, an autopoietic relationship.

And you know, isn’t ‘in beta’ a little bit like life? (Do not say the ‘J’ word, Ed) Living systems, living things, life -always unfinished, always learning, changing, striving and such…