08/19/95

"Re-forming" vs. "New-forming"

On the first day of one of my design classes, Harold Cohen, my professor, began to tell us about the goals of the course. He said that he wasn't going to try and teach us how to "reform" problems in society, but how to "new-form" them. "There is a time for reform," he said, "and there is a time when it becomes necessary to tear down the existing structures, and replace them with something completely new."

I liken this to having an old rubber raft that has gotten numerous holes over the years. You can patch them, but more appear. You patch those, and still more appear. Pretty soon you're putting patches on top of patches, and it becomes apparent that it's really time to just get a new raft.

In some ways, this analogy seems to reflect the current situation of the world. There are lots of old ideas floating around (the old raft), but there are increasing numbers of holes, and the raft is taking a beating. If we look far enough ahead, we'll see that we need to build some sort of new raft, and we'll need to have it ready long before the crucial point. If not, then we sink.

Harold told us that being "new-formers" was a rough job. "I'm going to make you into troublemakers," he told us on that day. "You're going to end up pissing a lot of people off." This is to be expected, though, when you stop to think about it. Any new idea will most likely challenge some older, established idea. And this will be seen as a threat to anyone unwilling to look outside of their old belief system. Still, the end result seems worth it. New ideas, though often met with resistance initially, usually win out in the end.

Perhaps it's time to rethink some of our collective presuppositions. Many people think of "reform" as the only alternative to some current problem. I would encourage people to also try on the "newformer" hat and see what wildly creative ideas they come up with, simply by removing themselves from the pre-existing (and thus limiting) framework of the problem.

Perhaps it's time to think up systems that don't just lessen a problem, but actually correct it, or sidestep it completely. Perhaps, instead of making cars that pollute less, we should make cars that don't pollute at all. And maybe they should fly, so that we don't have to deal with potholes and bad roads, or traffic jams. Of course, to do that, you'll need an autopilot system for them, which will also reduce the number of traffic-related deaths, and drunk-driving incidents....

See? Once you take the simple step out of the existing framework (such as assuming that cars MUST pollute...it's just a matter of how much), it is easy to let your imagination run wild. Once you do that, you'll be amazed at what you can accomplish. :-)

I'll close this with a quote:

The reasonable man tries to adapt himself to the world around, while the unreasonable man tries to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends upon the unreasonable man. -- George Bernard Shaw

Patrick Salsbury

Last modified: Thursday, 09-Jan-2003 17:12:59 PST