John Chris Jones

John Chris Jones: Thank you very much. As you’ve just heard I’ve been waiting a long time to be able to give you this talk, probably thirty from fifty years. Because in the 1950s, I was concerned as an ergonomic industrial designer with the interface of one of the early mainframes, the AEI 1010, and I’ve been connected at a distance with computer people ever since then. At that time when they used to consider auto coves for the cities and re-mended it in machine language, which was one’s and zeros. And off course the amount of software has increased … but for all these years it still wasn’t flexible enough to act in a more human way for things I wanted to do with it.

It only worked in a more human way. Only recently in 1995 due to the persuasion of one of my good friends was I induced or forced, I should say, into becoming a natural computer person. And that was Jonathan Moberly who obliged me to buy the necessary equipment and to learn the skills about do it yourself with aid from him. Previous to that Erik von Rauschell persuaded me and eventually talked me into it. And what you see here is a bit of a website I was assisted by Kass Schmidt is Kass here now? Could you put your hand up? Of the BBC who helped me to make this, rather than on my own, and Rob Blake who some of you know. Without these people I could do nothing. And I think I made something of these things because its a collaborative medium is it not? And it is the first in the world that is so collaborative. I think the spontaneous example of the open source movement is kind of comparable for the good that can come out of this network situation. The general word for Internet … I think the generic word should be computer net, namely a telephone network with a computer at each node as well as people at the nodes. That is what makes the difference whether you call it Internet or not. And it allows for things to go off on different routes and seems to be centerless. I wrote something called the phone in collaboration with Jonathan Moberly, which became quite a well-known piece of software.

Now I’m going to talk about my own experiences as really an amateur in this. I’ve been a professional amateur all my life; I would say going deliberately at the receiving end and seeing what it looks like to be fired at by the producers of technology. Mostly it hurts in my opinion though we’re induced to believe that it doesn’t hurt. And we get induced to mechanize ourselves to such a point that maybe we can’t de-mechanize ourselves, by that meaning to pre-computer technology. The computer as I realized in the 1950s is flexible, movable, changeable, not concerned with fixed centers of authoritarian modes of behavior. And that is the promise. So first technology really does is allow people to send matter off, possibly a website too and the radio microphone.

We will read in a few minutes from my digital diary. If this is live, I am not sure if it is live, we’ll find out in a moment. Then I’m going to look at the latest day if we can get to it, which was the 19th of January. We’ll read what is there. Let see if we can get to it. I’ve never used one of these lines with two things in it I’ve always been a Mac person. Now is this working?

Thinking out of doors, is something, which I did on the 19th, and I’ve been taking another computer… where’s my hand held? Here’s the hand held. I found … I was getting really far with the desktop computer and then I got an impulse one day … I am going to visit the cave drawings in France, the underground cave drawings by stone age people and on the way I bought this. Which is a hand held made by … it’s called a Visor it’s really strictly the same as the Palm. It uses the Palm software, and I write on this out of doors, and not in office spaces, not in houses, not with roofs, and floors, and wall around us. And following the advice of Thoreau, David Thoreau the American philosopher poet, or biologist poet, you could say that, who lived several years in a hut in the woods. And he says what you write out of doors in totally different, I agree with him. Also Rabindranath Tigore the Indian philosopher he says what I see in western philosophy I see the reflection of the city wall which is outside the philosopher and insulates him from nature and produces a dualism, the dualism of Plato for instance which has sobered us so deeply, and so highly ingrained and that I think is what we’re up against. The dualism, very relevant to the last talk. I think from Hayo whether we accept all of it, don’t accept splits between people into classes of professional and amateur and so on. I refuse to use splits. I find … I tried in organization to do this but eventually I had to resign, in the mid 80s, because I had a profound argument with the Open University where I used to work, but I could see that within such and organization as that it was impossible to proceed in the way I wish to and since then I earned much less money and freedom from having a boss, freedom of having an editor I had to work for and so on; And freedom from being on a committee. I don’t think I’ve been on a committee since then, since about 1985.

This is an expensive decision and this is one of the results. I have a clock here … what time are we supposed to finish?

Femke Snelting: Fifteen minutes.

Jones: Fifteen minutes to go, so that’s quarter past three. I hope I can keep my mind on that.

Now, I’m sitting in such a funny posture that I can’t do that. I’m trying to get to where I can … I wonder if you can do that for me, and I’ll take the microphone a little bit nearer, so I can see the projection properly.

I’m just going to read this and we’re going to enjoy the experience I hope, now of what I call collective reading. Which was absolutely impossible till digitized print. And I think the digitizing is a liberating move. We’re going to read very slowly. I normally do this every other Friday on a radio station in London called the Late, Late, Breakfast Show. It went off at two o’clock (…?) The Late, Late, Breakfast Show is arranged by Jonathan Momely and his wife and I’m there every other week and I read the latest bits from my digital diary. So I’m going to read now as if I were on the broadcast.

Funny thing reading from a microphone, from print, in broadcasting and now into collective reading, I think you might find you enjoy the experience of reading rather more when your sharing it with everyone else, than you ever dreamed possible before. If you read the writing of Marcel Proust, he has some beautiful essays on readings which lead to his first book, and he says its a tremendous joy being in touch with the secret recesses of the mind of the writer reverberating into the recesses of the mind of the reader.

Okay “Online 20th January 2005. Modified”, also 20th of January 2005. I do this each time. Note the modification. There will be more in this one I think because there are some mistakes in it. “19th January 2-0-0-5, Thinking out of doors. 16-0-3, Walking a different path today I find myself perceiving things differently. Ground, Trees, ponds, houses”, I do these walks on (?) in London for those of you who know it. It’s the city forest completely surrounded by a city and really quite wild. “… Ponds, houses, valleys, the whole of technology, and the … the six billion of us alive and the billions who have already lived and disappeared without (it seems to me) having dealt adequately with their technologies or with themselves as workers, instruments, victims even of the circumstances that they and we create.” By the way, when I am writing this, I’m never more than three words ahead of what’s going to come. “…Causing accidents of human life. And work and its apparently senseless products all over The planet…” ha I must change that later on a late modification for this evening “…and beyond it. I’m still in the woods. But in my thoughts I’m revisiting the prevailing unhappiness or nonsense … the rumble of an invisible jet plane above gray cloudy sky seen through bare branches. The sounds and scenes are alive, but what of the hundreds sitting up there in a metal tube.” As I was sitting yesterday. “Why are they there and where are they going? Questions one need not ask when walking in the woods but necessary I think when re-arranging life and nature to make fly an all systematical prostheses…” I’ve recently come to the conclusion that all design, all products are prostheses, for those of us, all of us in fact who cannot fly, we cannot go at fast speeds, we cannot go at a hundred miles an hour and so on. Where have I got to? Ah, it’s gone to the top, you moved it up! “And not when walking in the woods but necessary I think when re-arranging life and nature to make flight and all sorts of magical prostheses possible for many of us…” Bracket, this is a modification I put in yesterday, “I’m flying to Amsterdam tomorrow where I may read this at a conference on web design.” I think that is a good moment. “But I intended to write were more modern questions, more in mind and psyche.” Notice I didn’t say brain there. “And the nervous system that are now physical techniques and process and machine made works and its consequences. Why work, why software, why all of this mechanical seriousness in our ways of replacing human effort by automatic process? All forms of modern magic endured without smiles without fully realizing that our technology is out growing its mechanical past and changing its nature. That is the question. What is the answer and what has happened to our spirits? We are human animals at work when we could be at play or at something better than most of what we do for money. But it is getting to dark to see what I’m writing and I have to be in a waiting room…” Doctors waiting room that was. “A few miles away in about fifteen minutes.” To get some stitches removed, you can see if you look closely on my head there is still a sign of them there. Um… stitches removed where am I? Ah, spirits. Lost it again. Ah, “the clock, the train, the planned structure we inhabit. Walking fast toward (?) hill…” We going to move up?

Femke Snelting: Yeah we’re going to move up.

Jones: “I see the red light, at the top of a tall building…” Okay, “visible beyond the hill top, and when I get to the top I see a surrounding city lit up in the dusk… and the mist… and I am speechless.” I could have found a better word but I didn’t. “My questions…” forgetting “forgotten in the face of all this, the beauty of the city…” and I can’t help remembering Wordsworth’s poem there, “… scenes so touching in its majesty, city now just like a garment ware beauty of the morning silent pair. Ships, towers, domes, theaters and temples (?) open to the fields and to the sky…” I can’t remember the rest. Now where are we, “the beauty of the city in the evening as it is, the towers, the lights, the unknowable whole of it, seen from above, from this distance, and half imagined in our thoughts… there is more here than we know.” Now take us up, up, up, oops wait, a litt… no, no, the other way.

Matthew Fuller: Down.

Jones: Down, down, down, down, yeah “These pages are designed to be read with the window set to 2/3rds of the screen width.” I make the text something like twenty four point on most peoples computer and I put that instruction at the bottom rather mildly … because these long, long lines are terrible on the eye. The printing industry in the past always said no more than 72 letters in a line. (…?) shorter paragraphs in order so that you can read long texts on screen without having to do a print out. I don’t really like these methods of media print out, it’s going back to our fathers for God’s sake. Now we’ll see what’s new, or we saw what’s new. The homepage you had a look at that. The digital diary archive… the Daffodil, which is a newsletter. Anyone can join; you receive the newsletter monthly if you just send me the word “subscribe”. And I won’t use your information and I won’t force it on you, but there you are you can have it if you wish. I send it to about 200 people at the moment, and they seem to like.

Now this copyright, I’m keen on copyrighting and I’m keen on freedom as with the open source and so on. And copyright, copyleft (…?) A sentence that took me a long time to compose, “You may transmit this text to anyone for any commercial purpose if you include this copyright line and this notice and if you respect the copyright of quotations.” I think that in a nutshell, other people have come to similar sentences. It’s a reflexive legal way of guarding the rights of people and yet open at the same time. If you wish to reproduce any of this commercially please send me a copyright protection, “Permission request to jcj at, to avoid… ‘at’ instead of the symbol to avoid encouraging spam. I was getting about 50 spam a day now I’m down to about four or five thanks to the Macintosh filter, not the Macintosh filter the Demon filter that I use, and this sentence which I think means you can attribute to that.

Lets go now to what’s new. Lets see if there is anything. I’ll have a look at my notes now and the clock, which we have only a few minutes left. I have about six things I wanted to say. I’m going to have to choose one of them. Because I’ve really allowed myself to take a long time over that but I think it’s worth it. I was going to show a very elaborate bit of multimedia but the equipment isn’t quite right so… as usual as very often happens this is plan B, if not plan C. Plan A was going to be really a lot of fun but we’ve missed it.

Now… I’m only half way down the first page and there are two pages. Creative democracy. What I was asked to speak on was not what I’ve said so far. I was really asked to speak on creative democracy. I am going to now have to navigate to get to… wait a minute… no, I think we’ll do that one by reading through a book. This was the one I was going to do in a multimedia form. But we now have to do it through the book. On page 18 in this. This is a book which is like a bible, it looks like a bible, it isn’t really a bible, only you can believe it if you wish, it’s called “The Internet and Everyone”, and we’ll turn to page 18 to some words that took me quite awhile to work out. Where’s 18, oops, 15 … 17, yeah here we are. Two quotations from this book. This is what I wrote about… Matthew asked me to speak about it; I think it must have caught his interest. He’s one of the few people that has picked this book up and read it seriously I believe.

“What I promised in the synopsis of this book was to map out in some detail the creative democracy.” This is the word “creative democracy”. “The despecialization of industrial living to the point where professional jobs are deconstructed into families of intelligent software enabling anyone and everyone to take over the continuous reforming of culture, in every act and every thought. There are fictional hints at this vision in several places in the book. But to nowhere near the extent that the synopsis predicted. Something keeps stopping me,” this is an important point, “writing in that prescriptive way the way of the utopias.” All the utopias from Plato’s republic onwards, have, with one or two exception, a group of well thinking guardians or philosophers who are telling the other people what to do for their own good. Lenin, in the case of the most famous utopia, Soviet Russia for instance, followed up unfortunately by Stalin. Only William Morris and one or two others in the history of utopias wrote a utopia without government, in which self-government was the form. It is very very disappointing to me to find that science fiction which is a kind of utopia nearly always reverts to this hierarchical mode and has no conception at all of a changed social relationship, a changed nature of how we are together. That’s the real point I’m reading about here. “Something keeps stopping me writing in that prescriptive way of the utopias. Some deeper reluctance kept me back from any kind of faits accomplis in which other minds are not free to be clever or more stupid than any of us might predict.”

And just to finish I think we’ll read one more page. Page 29 to 30, this is only a little bit. Ah it’s difficult with all of these other things but never mind. I think we might have needed about six hours for the other version. This is from something called the “Unnamed Something Else” because I didn’t want to name its, because when you name it, in a way you destroy it when your talking about the “whole”. I think the whole is in fact unnamable and most names for the whole are diminishments of what we are capable of if we don’t name “it”. This is William Wordsworth here interspersed with computer thoughts. The William Wordsworth thoughts come first, ‘Once again do I behold the steep but lofty cliffs on which a wild secluded scene impress thoughts of more deep seclusion and connect the landscape with the quiet of the sky.” Now comes the computer bit. “The central point to this view of things is that specialization is no longer the right form for living in industrial…” Turning to the other page. “Industrial culture. I believe that the logic of the change from mechanical to post mechanical…” You can put the cameral right on the print here. This is the ghost; he’s going to give a version of what the multimedia version would have been like only it will be on tape. You can focus on the writing. “I believe that the logic of the change from mechanical to post mechanical, via electronic media and computing, implies that people cease to organize themselves in specialized roles, as experts highly skilled in narrowband jobs. With the aid of the computerized internet everyone should be able to take back (from what remains of the specialized professions) the creativeness and initiative that was long ago lost to them.” The designer is a greedy man said someone called Josephine at a conference I remember about design. He steals all the interesting parts of life and leaves all the rest for all of the others. “The manual skills…” Wait a minute now… ah, I can’t help doing these departures from the text. “As I see it the presence of accessible computing power embedded in everything will turn the technical know-how of experts into accessible software and their manual skills and intuitions into the normal abilities of everyone else. Thus users could become designers and designer could become facilitators (the designers of contexts and software in which these changes can happen).” That I think is the answer, my answer to the question hanging over this conference. Web design if it’s professional should be a meta-profession whatever that means. That might be too much of an un-naming of the unknown. Anyway I brief look at the time and ah that was only about 25% of what I was going to say.

Thank you.