Note — Nov 06, 2022

Towards Growing Peaches Online

Another one of those great pieces by Claire L. Evans where she mixes nature and computing, and architecture in this case. Here she looks at Parisian peach orchards (I had no idea!) and interweaves that with “what the British architect Christopher Alexander famously called the ‘quality without a name.’”

Evans then dives deeper into Alexander’s pattern language, his influence on coding, how, according to him, software has a responsibility to heal the planet and enrich human life, and a side trip to a distributed web of care and the example of Are.na as an a rare online place with that “quality without a name.”

Two things. First, just like the idea of “mother nodes” I’ve mentioned a few times but haven’t written enough about, I think Evans is onto something with these parallels with/lessons from nature. Second, I had a bit of déjà vu reading this, where programmers grasp onto something and draw inspiration from it… without catching the underlying lessons and moral of the work. (See most of Silicon Valley v scifi.)

Software has a responsibility to heal the planet and enrich human life, he told them. “Computers play a fundamental role in making the world—and above all the built structure of the world—alive, humane, ecologically profound, and with a deep living structure,” he said. […]

[W]e’re surrounded with elegant code that does harm: programmatic advertising, or the outrage-amplifying algorithms of social media. […]

“To stand in these places is to stand in a place where desire was met. Where for a moment, something that was yours was carved out of the ugly body of online corporate games culture,” they write. “Like building a fort in the woods between the highway and the mall.” […]

We talk a lot about how platforms corrupt our ability to focus, think critically, or connect with others. But Are.na is an example of the way a small, conscientiously-designed platform can do the opposite. Tending to my channels is like building a home as I inhabit it: the process unfolds over time and changes my relation to the outside world. “The goal is not self-improvement,” a footer on the Are.na homepage reads. “The goal is engaging more deeply with the World.”