Tuesday, April 19, 2011

間 (ma), Parent Practice, Mac Arthur Park, the iPhone

In helping my son with a project for school I have oddly enough had to teach my son the value of leaving something out.  Clearly every engineer knows that this discipline does not come second nature to most engineers, and we have a term for the opposite ingrained tendency: creeping featurism.  The opposite tendency is an aesthetic that has been referred to by some as  "間  (ma)" - which translates as interval, space, etc.  A Japanese word which expresses this in the opposite sense is 間も無く (mamonaku), which means basically in a very short time - "no interval," from the kanji.  You hear the word on the shinkansen when they announce in Japanese that the train is about to arrive in a station.

I haven't been that much aware that this is a strategy Apple builds into its products until I read about it recently, but in helping my son with his project I noticed that this principle is all around.  It is why overall horrid song MacArthur Park sold phenomenally well: it has a hook.  It is why Rush Limbaugh is still there after all these years: the Oxycontin addled demagogue repeats right-wing talking points well to the masses so they get the "hook."   (And Glenn Beck, since he's been  going off the metaphorical  reservation, is the natural target for other right-wingers now.)  It is also a good explanation of Suzuki-Roshi's idea of the Worst Horse.

We in the West like to hold up the "Renaissance man" as some kind of ideal, but clearly we prefer  that with a more carefully chosen set of features than "everything."  If you can do one thing well, or make something that is so incredibly excellent in one or two features, you can leave out something, and people seem to like it better; you can include your version of "Someone left the cake out in the rain..." it seems, and it seems to make the whole thing better as far as we humans can tell.  Very strange.  But that allows me too to embed a really otherwise sucky song in this blog post.  Enjoy!

Doubtful that will enlighten you today, but it's just a Note in Samsara, you know.

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