Alex Pang is my concept buddy. Every so often he draws linkages between things that make my brain work for a few days. Most recently this was in a post entitled The End of Cyberspace: Yes-and in post-cyberspace design. In this post, Alex notes that elements of improv comedy have an interesting parallel to his distinctions of the cyberspace era and the post-cyberspace era.
The active element here is cooperation. Acceptance is inherent in cooperation. Even if it is temporary or grudging acceptance. In the case of improv, Alex quotes Steven Colbert and I reuse that quote:
When I was starting out in Chicago, doing improvisational theatre with Second City and other places, there was really only one rule I was taught about improv. That was, “yes-and.” In this case, “yes-and” is a verb.... [Y]es-anding means that when you go onstage to improvise a scene with no script, you have no idea what’s going to happen, maybe with someone you’ve never met before. To build a scene, you have to accept. To build anything onstage, you have to accept what the other improviser initiates on stage. They say you’re doctors—you’re doctors. And then, you add to that: We’re doctors and we’re trapped in an ice cave. That’s the “-and.” And then hopefully they “yes-and” you back. You have to keep your eyes open when you do this. You have to be aware of what the other performer is offering you, so that you can agree and add to it. And through these agreements, you can improvise a scene or a one-act play. And because, by following each other’s lead, neither of you are really in control. It’s more of a mutual discovery than a solo adventure...
Alex then says:
Cyberspace had an important either/or: most of the time, you could either interact with it, or with the world, but not both at once. The personal computing model of
interacting with information was socially disruptive: the keyboard and monitor require a lot of your attention. Under most circumstances, this meant choosing between things seen through a screen on your desk, or the world around your desk. To put it another way, the same technologies that made it easy for you to interact in real time with someone thousands of miles away made it hard to interaction with someone a few feet away.
The "space" of cyberspace was a location and we can't be in two locations at the same time. We can be in one location in one moment and in another the very next moment, but for all our multitasking we're pretty grounded animals. Even though there was a cyber element to cyberspace, our bodies had to be in a location to access that space.
There is an interpersonal / psychosocial equivalent to this that is personally or socially imposed. It's called entrenchment - when a person holds on to an idea or a concept rigorously. They are in a certain mental location and won't allow movement from that location. It is the ground where false dichotomies are born (democrat / republican, rich / poor, us / terrorists).
As tools continue to be built to help people work together better, there necessarily has to be movement away from entrenchment. The weak point of group systems - wikis, peer-to-peer working environments, source control, group blogs, etc. is entrenchment, the breakdown of cooperation.
Add to this our propensity to favor argument over agreement and we have an opportunity. You rarely end up vehemently agreeing with people. If there are ten people in a group agreeing with you and one with another opinion - that's the person you'll remember. That's the person you'll probably speak to.
So how can we harness the power of yes/and in an either/or world? Both have their own energy. Either/or, when used correctly, is what keeps you on-track. Yes/and is what propels us forward.
We want to avoid overempahsis of one over the other. Only Either/Or will move you in circles. Yes/and will blindly run you to group think.
As we create the social software environment that will end up governing the early 21st century, we need to think of how our tools are used. What elements of them reward Either/Or, which reward Yes/and and are these tools balanced? Does their construction influence the outcomes of disagreements or make it difficult to stop a bad idea? Do they keep us locked in one place or not give us time to adequately explore a given idea?
I love waking up like this.
(I also wanted to write about the difference between sharing control and losing control, based on Colbert's comments - but I'll save that for another post.)
Photo of Allan Cady: Greg Mizell