to avoid having to communicate and Jana Perković

The fantastic Jana Perković wrote/tweeted this sometime ago:

If you listen carefully, you will notice that Australians primarily use language not for communication, but to avoid having to communicate. The Australian English, spoken and written, relies heavily on formulas and linguistic presets (“How’s it going?”, “Oh, not too bad. You?”) for much longer into any given conversation and into any given relationship than in other languages I know.

I have a sneaky suspicion that New Zealand English is pretty similar. It seems like much of my adult life has been looking for ways to fight such resistance to entering communication.

Jana Perković (she used to be on twitter as @relatively) is such an arresting writer and thinker (among other things). See this post on the theatre scene in Melbourne as she calls a hiatus from her own website and to a certain extent social media:

And here’s a link to Jana’s podcast series called Audio Stage:

There are rich pickings in there.

And, finally, here she is on Matt Cornell’s Wombat Radio podcast:

Part 1:
Part 2:

Jana – if you are reading this –I’m a fan, and hello from Italy.



the system

My friend and colleague Scott deLahunta suggested not so long ago that I might be interested in Ellen Ullman’s 1997 book Close to the Machine.[1] It’s a great read, and surprisingly relevant given how much the internet and technology has changed since the late 90s.

Here she is talking about the system:

I remembered the first time I saw a system infect its owner. It was early in my career, at my first software company. I had just installed a new system at the offices of a small business in Central California. … The company’s employees had been there for ten and twenty years, particularly the women, mostly clerical workers. They were the ones who would be most affected by the new system, yet they went about learning it with a homey cheerfulness that surprised me.

The installation went smoothly. Later, after the women returned from training, I visited the office again. The business owner, an apparently good-natured Rotarian, was heartily pleased with his new computer. He insisted upon taking me out to dinner. … I thought I was going to get through the evening pleasantly. But just after we ordered dessert, Mr. Banner leaned over to me and asked, “Can you keep track of keystrokes?”

“To keep keystrokes? I don’t know off hand. But why? Why would you want to do that?” William Banner dug into his ice cream, which had just been put down before him. “Well, take Mary. I’d like to know everything that Mary does in a day.” Mary was the receptionist and general office manager. She was William Banner’s oldest employee, twenty-six years. As I recalled, Mary knew everyone of the company’s clients by name. For the first several years of her employment, when Mr. Banner’s kids were small, she used to pick them up from school, take them home, and pour them milk. “But why do you want to keep on eye on Mary? She’s doing very well with the system. I mean, is there a problem?” “Oh, no. No problem,” said William Banner, “but, you know.. .. Well, I’m just curious. All those years she’s been out there running things, and now I can find out exactly what she does.” “So you want to know about Mary just because you can?” I asked. William Banner swirled his ice cream around like a kid, then licked a big wad off his spoon. “Hmm. That’s it, I suppose. The way I look at it, I’ve just spent all this money on a system, and now I get to use it the way I’d like to.”

“Keystroke monitoring. It’s a bad idea. The system is a tool to help people do their work, not a watchdog. If people feel they are being watched, they put their creative energies into hiding things.” “Oh, well, that’s possible. But when I saw the system running, I thought to myself, ‘I bet this thing can tell me what everyone is up to all day.’”

The system was installed, it ran, and it spoke to him: you can know every little thing you always wanted to know. You can keep an eye on the woman you trusted to pick up your kids from kindergarten. You can count every keystroke, and you want to count them simply because it’s possible. You own the system, it’s your data, you have power over it; and, once the system gives you this power, you suddenly can’t help yourself from wanting more.

I’d like to think that computers are neutral, a tool like any other, a hammer that can build a house or smash a skull. But there is something in the system itself, in the formal logic of programs and data, that recreates the world in its own image. Like the rock-and-roll culture, it forms an irresistible horizontal country that obliterates the long, slow, old cultures of place and custom, law and social life. We think we are creating the system for our own purposes. We believe we are making it in our own image. We call the microprocessor the “brain”; we say the machine has “memory.” But the computer is not really like us. It is a projection of a very slim part of ourselves: that portion devoted to logic, order, rule, and clarity. It is as if we took the game of chess and declared it the highest order of human existence.

We place this small projection of ourselves all around us, and we make ourselves reliant on it. To keep information, buy gas, save money, write a letter – we can’t live without it any longer. The only problem is this: the more we surround ourselves with a narrowed notion of existence, the more narrow existence becomes. We conform to the range of motion the system allows. We must be more orderly, more logical. Answer the question, Yes or No, OK or Cancel.

  1. Ellen Ullman (1997). Close to the Machine: Technophilia and its Discontents. San Francisco: City Lights Books, pages 85–90 (abridged)  ↩


skellis dot info

When I first started a website I used the domain name About a year ago I mapped (or forwarded) that old domain to a new personal domain name:

There are still a good many old projects to add to the new site, but it is the space online that I now keep up to date with various projects, collaborations and ideas.


cognitive biases

I really like Jason Kottke’s blog at where he covers diverse topics about culture, design, and technology (etc). More than a year ago he posted a link to a cognitive bias cheat sheet written by Buster Benson who writes over at

Cognitive biases – “systematic patterns of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment”[1] – are fascinating. And what that little definition doesn’t really get at is that cognitive biases are actually the norm. We can think we don’t fall prey to them but …

Some of my particular favourites are about how and why we notice the things we notice: confirmation bias, subjective validation, [observer effect](observer effect) and the availability heuristic.

As both Kottke and Benson point out, the wikipedia page on cognitive biases is both remarkable and a remarkable mess.

So Benson spent a chunk of time thinking through the wikipedia page and came up with what he calls a cognitive bias cheat sheet. His post is fantastic, and he categorises the biases as being related to four problems:

  1. There is too much information.
  2. There is not enough meaning.
  3. We need to act fast.
  4. What should we remember?

The entire post is here and it’s worth every moment of your time:

To cap things off, Benson produced a “diagrammatic poster remix” of his post:





I used to be a member of The Place’s associate artist scheme called Work Place, and I see that my 2011 biography still exists on their site: The meetings were at times quite stimulating and there was a sense of the group trying to make sense of our differences as artists (and people) and what the purpose or role of the Work Place might be.

At the end of 2012 we had a meeting that I wasn’t able to attend. Instead I made a little video about ambition and difference and I thought that some of the ideas might be interesting to anyone thinking about making art (or just making anything), economies of scale, and ambition.