So, i read “Creation Myth” about Steve Jobs visiting Xerox. I thought it was fascinating that Dean Hovey bought the parts to build their prototype mouse at a Walgreen’s. It’s seems like computer technology is so complicated and integrated now that something like that is a thing of the past. Of course, with only a few weeks of learning and practice, I could, in theory, write the next hit iPhone app which would be arguably more advanced than anything they had back then.
I suppose the main idea to take from all this is how little the so called ‘mavericks’ actually come up with. Perhaps being an inventive genius is less about having some brilliant idea, and more about luck and seizing opportunities. I remember reading somewhere that Steve Jobs actually hired Bill Gates to write the applications for the original Macintosh. So Steve Jobs learns to build and program computers which have been around for decades, goes to Xerox who has a computer with a desktop themed interface and a mouse, which they got from some other people who will be forgotten by history, then he takes the mouse and desktop, plugs them into a nothing special for it’s time computer, has someone else program it, and then somehow he’s the inventor of the personal computer.
The invention of the computer is an interesting case study. I suggest reading science historian James Burke, or watching any of his TV series, “Connections” which is available for free on Youtube. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ib4io-gaRso&list=PL06C1E02505897BA3)
In the case of the Computer, which was in it’s infancy when he filmed this series (and arguably still is) he points to the invention of a new kind of sail for ships in medieval Europe leading to more trade with the near east, which sets off a fashion craze for complex Arabian patterns on textiles which leads to advancements in loom technology, one of which is the idea of a punch card telling the machine how to make the pattern, which is picked up by a bureaucrat on Ellis Island who uses it to take census more efficiently, and subsequently goes on to use the punch card idea in the new company he founds, called IBM.
The title, “Creation Myth” is interesting in that it can be taken as ‘the story of how the mac was created’ or as an example to show that the idea of someone simply ‘creating’ something totally original is a myth, that all of technology, and indeed culture is a maelstrom of crosspollinating incremental tweaks that build off of everything else that ever was.
Recognition of this in regards to art means understanding that the categories of ‘original’, ‘derritive’, ‘remixed’ and such are nebulous and flow in and out of each other. They are not going to be well defined ever, because the concepts don’t respect the paradigm of interrelated, interconnected, evolving ideas that refer to each other and then back to themselves. If something were to be truly original would that mean that it is not influenced by or relateable to the rest of the swirling soup of culture? What meaning would such an object have if it didn’t connect back to anything else? How would we understand it if it was completely new and unrelated to all that came before?
Culture is signs pointing at signs. We can try and define what a remix is and how it’s different from a remake or a copy or a homage or a parody, but there will always be counter examples that don’t fit the definition well but are clearly a remix. Our language is intuitive, and it’s categories are gradations that lack rigor or boundaries. For more on this last bit I recomend George Laykoff’s book, “Women, Fire and Dangerous Things”