Inexorable Progress

Progress, an unstoppable train, rolling down the track.

We are all wrong about the basic path of progress though. I’ll get to that, but first let’s state the standard assumptions.

Here we see three data points: hand drawing, CAD drawing, and BIM. Hand drawing, it is commonly understood, evolved into CAD drawing, and then progress inexorably continues as CAD drawing evolves then into BIM. It seems undeniable; we see three data points, and so we naturally connect them into a progression path forward, an unstoppable path leaving behind it what is obsolete:

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 11.36.35 AM

Let’s just take one second though to think about what progression means. A thing follows from another thing. In an evolutionary chain, the latest is the greatest, or the most fit and so on. The latest thing improves on what came before it. That’s the essential point; The predecessor is lesser. The latest is an improvement compared to what came before it.

So for example, BIM, its features and benefits, let’s say its whole value, is always framed in terms of the look backward toward BIM’s predecessor. So, according to what we see, represented in the image above, BIM is the latest in the progress chain, and CAD drawing is the lesser. All of the strengths of BIM are shown to be strengths, in comparison to CAD drawing.

And one certainly doesn’t go around arguing against progress, so… Ha, but what if we’re wrong about this in some substantial way? What if we’re right about progress, but wrong about the progression track? What if we’re overlooking some of the data points and connecting the dots the wrong way? What if there are two progression tracks, not one? What if drawing and modeling lie on two different tracks?

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 11.36.20 AM

And what if there are additional data points?

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 11.37.05 AM

What happens if we see one progression track for modeling and another progression track for drawing? Indeed, this would mean that these two are fundamentally different things and that each of them has a past, present, and a future.

So test this. Let’s say that modeling has a past, present, and future. This would mean that modeling as we know it will continue to evolve and that we can anticipate new forms of modeling in the future. It would also mean that modeling has a past, and that the modeling we know today has its value and benefits framed in terms of that precedent past, in terms of what today’s modeling follows from, evolves from. And so in the image above, on the (purple) modeling track, we see that modeling’s past is not drawing, but in fact is another kind of modeling: imaginary modeling, models held in the mind, mental models.

Test your favorite argument supporting the value of BIM, and now frame that argument by directing it backward toward BIM’s predecessor. Compare the digital model to the mental model; state the benefits of BIM in terms of the comparative advantage of digital modeling versus mental modeling.

No doubt your favorite arguments pass this test and stand well appreciated in full force. But however, maybe a little bit of the pride is gone. We don’t savor so much the idea of kicking the power of our own imagination down the back stair. Or we’re not quite so enthusiastic about it. Our arguments are left standing, but are framed more correctly and so lead to more reasonable conclusions.

Alright, how about the other track, the drawing track. Cleary, drawing has a storied past, and a present. But since we have drawing now on its own progression track, we can anticipate then that drawing has a future. This should come as a relief to some and a surprise to others.

What might the future of drawing look like? To answer that we should think about what drawing is. What is the function, role, and purpose of drawing? What does it do? How does it do it? And, as we have two tracks, modeling and drawing, let’s ask these questions about both of them.

Modeling is wide, expansive. Models are wide worlds, environments. Drawings are narrow, focusing. Drawings are narrowing focusing events, articulating technique, or ways of looking, at what? At models, at wide worlds, environments. Drawings are narrowing focusing technique that support understanding of wide worlds.

Reflect on this basic difference, the function and role of models and the function and role of drawings; their difference, and their constant interplay. This interplay, between wide and narrow, between world and focus, is a (the?) play at the root of understanding, at the root of human cognition.

And this interplay can be amplified. Such is the (future) role of software. These two progression tracks, model and drawing, will inexorably roll into the future, side by side, and intertwined in constant interplay, and in that interplay, will amplify our ability to see, to think, to understand, to communicate, and to act.

An interesting future, no doubt, and barely begun.

Here’s a diagram of both tracks rolling forward:


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