Loyalty, compression and culture Seth’s Blog
The alphabet is a miracle, compounded by books. And the lessons we learn from this cornerstone of modern culture apply to organizations, meetings, technology, politics, and almost everything we do together.
your copy To kill a mockingbird Every word is in the version that Harper Lee signed off on. Even if the paper, pagination and typography have changed, it is a high-fidelity replica of the original.
He wrote the book using the same 26 letters that every writer in the English language uses, and when you read it, it will reveal itself in exactly the same format as he intended.
Reliability is high. Each duplicate is the same.
And work is not compressed. It unfolds exactly as the Creator intended – 26 letters, available to every author.
This is different from copying a song on AM radio or a cassette AM radio is compressed, and while it reaches you across town, it’s also less reliable. MP3s are compressed, but each copy is a high-fidelity replica of the first. On the other hand, with cassettes, each copy loses something. Eventually the copies become nothing like the original. 800 copies later and you have nothing but static.
Harmful contractions are forever. Information has been intentionally deleted. What you hear is not what the artist heard in the studio, and all the equipment in the world cannot reproduce it. On the other hand, mathematics and computers can now often give us the opposite compression, but that is a different discussion. We compress data because smaller files allow us higher fidelity and cheaper networking.
High fidelity means every copy is what we expect.
Lossless compression (or no compression) means we leave nothing out to work for fidelity or shareability.
Packaged food companies and cheap chocolate makers are a continuation of high fidelity to the magic of something special (the same, if worse, every time). So they mix ingredients and dumb down recipes so it’s always the same. This contraction isn’t done by mistake, it’s something they work hard for.
A Broadway show is high fidelity when you watch it, but if you try to save it, it disappears. You have to be there live, not the same as a reference recording on video. Telling someone about the show is not the same as watching it.
And the script is not lossy compression. In fact, the script is exactly what the playwright intended, but the director and actors embellish the script in every production and performance. It’s part of their job. Reverse sort of compression.
Gossip is community narrowing and less trustworthy news, and both get worse as it spreads.
One of the miracles of email and the Internet was how high fidelity (instant perfect copy, forever) and the ability of text and other media to compress as specific forms spread. Of course an MP3 cannot be restored from the original reel to reel master recording, and a Wikipedia article changes over time.
Language translation is harmful and low fidelity. Nuances disappear when we swap one language for another, which is why a talented translator is so much more valuable than a computer doing the same job.
And the meeting? Meetings at work are inherently low fidelity and end up being quite convoluted. Unlike a memo that can be in and of itself, a meeting is a performance, and then it’s summarized and summarized again, until it becomes a story that’s a shadow of what the person who started the whole thing had in mind. disappears.
Democracy is perhaps best served by high resolution and the pernicious compression of ideas and logic. Alas, the Internet and TV, while adding speed and impact, likely lower resolution and increase compression at the same time.
As Jeff Jarvis points out, GPT and other AI chatbots are essentially lossy compression mechanisms for the web. They read the entire web and condense it into a few paragraphs on demand. As Cliffs notes, one of the problems with this facility is that it cannot be compressed. Nuance disappears and is difficult to reconstruct.
We have seen this pendulum swing back and forth over and over again in our lifetime. From black and white TV to color (this gives less compression of the original image). From films in theaters to low quality streaming on phones. From a landline phone conversation to a bad cell connection to a few characters in a text message. CDs sound worse than a good LP, but SACD and MQA can sound better under the right conditions. Companies go from handbooks and memos to hallway conversations to Slack checkins.
Harmful contractions are forever. Faithfulness is a powerful joy. Stories pervade and resonate, but by their very nature compress the truth of what we have just encountered. A novel is the author’s complete story telling as they choose to tell it, while history books and journalism always condense what actually happened.
If you want to change culture, or understand a technology in media, or history, mess with fidelity and look for contraction. Robert Caro is a low-compression biographer…
And now, AI completely redefines fidelity, sometimes embellishing what was before and introducing what might mistakenly be seen as the core of high fidelity.
And yet, the alphabet is a miracle. High fidelity, low compression, resilient and widely distributed.
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