Focus Events in Spatial Media


Focus Events in Spatial Media

  1. data types: spatial (vector, point), symbolic, visual (image, any kind, spatially arrayed), textual, tabular, as well as, long chains of review, commentary, discussion…
  2. focus events: the set of naturally occurring “focus events”. A focus event is any interaction with data that provides guidance, clarity, instruction, direction, affirmation, or otherwise, raises doubt, questions, remarks, comments, marks-up (these interactions can be human or algorithmic).  A drawing is a focus event.

An information system has to accumulate data of diverse types, and accumulate them in a meaningful way (aligned in time and space), not haphazardly. But this is just a precondition. For intelligibility, something other than diverse data must accumulate. This other thing could be called the set of naturally occurring “focus events”. A focus event is any interaction with data that provides guidance, clarity, instruction, direction, affirmation, or on the other hand, raises doubt, questions, remarks, comments, marks-up (these interactions can be human or algorithmic). A focus event finds and shows what matters in the data, and is a reflection of why the interacting agent (often a person) thinks it matters. A focus event shows what’s interesting, what is (the way things are), or what should be (the way things should be), and what should be understood. A focus event is both an expression and an instrument of our conceptual understanding, of complex information. As such, these events are certainly important. We should pay attention to them (focus on them), and not discard them.

Focus events are the companion of data, without which data is unintelligible. Let’s put it this way: a “focus event” is a place in data where conception (what we think things mean, or should mean, according to our conceptual framework) meets perception (pure sensory accumulation of data). A focus event is a place where what we conceive meets what we perceive. Quoting Hofstadter and Sander, from their book, Surfaces and Essences, Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking, published simultaneously in English and French by Basic Books, 2013, pages 171 and 172:

“There is an unbreakable link between perceiving and conceiving. On the one hand, our conceptions depend on our senses, since our concepts would be quite different if our senses were different, but on the other hand, our perceptions depend on our repertoire of concepts, because the latter are the filter through which any stimulus in our environment reaches our consciousness.”

“…imagine trying to memorize an event without any simplification taking place; the result might be called a “total rote recording” or “perception without concepts”… This idea of “perception without concepts” can be summarily rejected…”

We need our concepts reflected in our (spatial) data. In early 2012, Bentley Systems introduced a change that provides a new possibility. The change is not unlike the change 100 years ago when sound was synchronized into film. Sound and film were two distinct, different, media (data) types, and the combination of sound into film altered both, fundamentally. In combination, each becomes something other than what it was standing alone and apart.

Sound is contextualized by (in) film; the meaning of sound is better specified. That is, in many cases, the intended meaning of sound is more controlled, more clearly delivered, more likely to be understood as intended, when sound is contextualized in film. Film gives the sound it’s meaning, or at least makes the meaning clearer, or more specific. This of course simply follows from the power of context. Jeff Jonas makes this point about context, rather nicely in this IBM commercial ): “looking at the things around something to better understand the thing.”

The fusion of sound into film, also makes a massive impact on film. Film is rather thoroughly disambiguated by the infusion of sound. Sound brings a certain clarity and directiveness to film. Film without sound (silent film), artful and expressive as it is, is certainly shrouded in a kind of fog, a bit of doubt regarding its intended meaning in plot, characters, story, environment. Of course there is no reason to diminish silent film for this. Openness to interpretation is one of its distinctive qualities. That openness can even enhance some of its expressiveness. To be sure, I love silent film as much as the next person and it certainly still stands on its own today. Likewise, sound (music, radio, speech, dialog, and so on) also continues very well and stands on its own today, each remaining powerful and distinct on their own. But we don’t fail to notice what happens when they’re combined.  The breakthrough that synchronized sound into film created a new communication medium that enabled new kinds of expression and communication. Modern cinema (video) since has evolved for over a hundred years and still seems nowhere close to exhaustion of its innovative possibilities.

The fusion of sound into film alters both media and creates a third that brings new possibilities of expression and new communicative effectiveness. We think we may see similar results with regard to the fusion of two other media:  drawing (as a “focus event”), and spatial media (of various types). Two years ago, in 2012, a Bentley Systems innovation automatically synchronized drawing media into spatial information environments, in-situ. As with sound in film, this synchronization alters both media, and creates something new. The constituent media no longer are quite what they were before, and combined, new conceptual, expressive, and communicative possibilities arise.

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