Denaturing the New

This quote from Alan Kay is very nice.  It explains a lot

It’s largely about the enormous difference between “News” and “New” to human minds. Marketing people really want “News” (= a little difference to perk up attention, but on something completely understandable and incremental). This allows News to be told in a minute or two, yet is interesting to humans. “New” means “invisible” “not immediately comprehensible”, etc.

So “New” is often rejected outright, or is accepted only by denaturing it into “News”. For example, the big deal about computers is their programmability, and the big deal about that is “meta”.

For the public, the News made out of the first is to simply simulate old media they are already familiar with and make it a little more convenient on some dimensions and often making it less convenient in ones they don’t care about (such as the poorer readability of text on a screen, especially for good readers).

For most computer people, the News that has been made out of New eliminates most meta from the way they go about designing and programming.

One way to look at this is that we are genetically much better set up to cope than to learn. So familiar-plus-pain is acceptable to most people.

I observe this pattern often.  The listener is ready and willing to accept some News, but the story I want to tell is something New.  It remains invisible, and while I can denature it until it is impedance matched to their appetite for News I come away frustrated.  Yes yes, rope is indeed very cool; but you have missed the elephant connected to my tale.

3 thoughts on “Denaturing the New

  1. Edward Vielmetti

    Hm, mixed metaphor here.

    “Denaturing” the new would be adding something to it; e.g. denatured alcohol, which “has additives to make it poisonous or unpalatable”.

    “Impedance matching” is about transforming a signal so that it matches the resistance of the system it is going into.

    I’d suggest that if you want to think about how to inject New into News, that you think about buffering it rather than denaturing it; New provides too much of a shock to News, so perhaps it needs to be mixed in in such at way that it doesn’t provoke sudden resistance.

  2. bhyde Post author

    Ed – Denature also means to dilute and remove it’s original properties; that you do damage to the original is I think the effect I like in the phrase. That as you do that you might convert it into something more easily digested by the audience is – i think correct.

    To me impedance matching is about power transfer, a perfect impedance match assures the maximum signal is transmitted.

    True enough, i guess that for most readers denature is to make it unpalatable even poison – I wonder if that was Kay’s intent.

  3. Alan Kay

    “Denature” actually means what it says: “to change the nature or properties”, and its use in biochem has the additional meaning of “losing some of the special properties of biomolecules in the process”.

    Perhaps also an interesting commentary about “New” and “News” is that people are so sure of their internal meanings for things that they rarely use the instant look-up provided by the Internet to check. This is a shame, since one of our goals in creating Personal Computing and the Internet was to allow people to easily be much more accurate in their thinking and making claims.

    Best wishes,


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