Monday, December 24, 2007

Labels - Making It Contextual

I wrote a little bit about taxonomy and how it is being changed by the Internet through the use of labels. Ma'am had some views to share about them. Here is my reaction to her email which I think has become another blog post in its own right.

When we say something is 'both' - for example, when we say that an electron is both a particle and a wave - we may mean it in two very different ways. We may mean that it is both at the same time or we may mean that it is sometimes one and sometimes the other depending on context. Let's call these two different kinds of 'both' as 'simultaneous both' and 'contextual both'.

I don't think I ever meant to imply in my blog that we are moving beyond the urge to classify. I'm merely saying that we are moving from an exclusive system of classification to one where we can comfortably label every object with multiple labels. This labelling, as far as it applies to computers, is definitely contextual. You want you information to be available in two or more different contexts. That is why you give it two or more different labels. However, 'contextual both' and 'simultaneous both' are two ways of looking at the same thing and are easily confused.

You could, for example, say that an electron is sometimes a way and sometimes a particle and what precisely it is depends on the experiment you are performing -- that is, the context. But the human mind interprets it to mean that the electron is both at the same time. And immediately we balk at the notion. How can something be both at the same time? It is either this or that. A contextual both is just not acceptable to us.

So when we are faced with such enigmatic objects we start defining new categories. The rather funny term wavicles was invented for things like electrons. The term SFF has been invented within literature. We have Asian-americans in the US. We just can't accept that American Gods can be any of fantasy, SF and horror depending on how you look at it. Neither can we accept that the same person can be an Asian in one context and and American in another. Thus we invent new terms.

The point that I wanted to make was the this paradigm shift may make us more acceptable of a contextual both. So while categories will continue to exist, the boundaries of what goes into them and more importantly WHEN, will get blurred. As far as I can see, that should be a good things.

To summarize, the current dominant mode of thought seems to be that all both is simultaneous and (ironically) simultaneous both is not possible hence everything should be 'either/or' and if not then a new category should be invented. With 'labelling' coming to vogue I see a growing acceptance of contextual both.

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