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Accommodation      Ontogenetic development (child to adult) has the same basic principle as phylogenetic development (animal to human) - adaptation. Adaptation involves the assimilation of information from the environment and the accommodation, if necessary, of the cognitive structure to this information (Jean Piaget).

Aha phenomenon      see Eureka Effect

American Sign Language (ASL)      see Code

Anthropotropic Principle      The principle that technologies work better when they respect the nature of the human body and the human mind (Paul Levinson). Thus, for example, the mouse-qwerty keyboard combination does not respect the fact that humans have only two hands.

Assimilation      see Accommodation

Asynchronous communication      see Synchronous communication

Autophenomenology      The inside subjective point of view, as opposed to heterophenomenology, the outside objective point of view (Daniel Dennett).

Avatar      A digital representation of yourself which interacts with other avatars, representing other people, in a virtual world.

Biological diversity      A strategy used by nature to increase the probability that life forms will survive.

Biomimicry      A conscious strategy by designers to observe and learn principles of design from nature.

Boustrophedon script      Script in which the text alternates between left-to-right and right-to-left. From the Egyptian word for "as the ox ploughs". It was used for large documents on walls so that the reader did not have to walk back to the beginning of the next line.

Braille      see Code

Camera obscurata      A pin-hole camera consisting of a light-tight box with a small hole. Used since the Middle Ages to create images by permitting light to shine through the small hole on to the surface at the opposite side of the box.

Chord keyset      A one-handed keyboard consisting of five keys (one for each finger). Letters are represented by a binary code consisting of some combination of those keys. Douglas Engelbart, the inventor of the mouse, recommended this chord keyset for the other hand.

Code      A system of communication which piggy-backs on language by creating a one-to-one relationship between the elements of the code and the letters of the alphabet. Used in situations where language can not be used. Examples are

  • Braille for communication with the blind - a code in which patterns of raised dots represent the letters of the alphabet,
  • American Sign Language (ASL) for communication with the deaf - a code in which hand signs represent the letters of the alphabet, and
  • Semaphore for communication at a distance where there is visual contact but not auditory contact - a code in which the pattern of the positions of two flags represent the letters of the alphabet.
  • Morse code for communication at a distance where there is neither auditory or visual contact, but there is a wire along which can be passed a series of short and long signals by interrupting the electric flow along the wire.

Cofigurative      A society in which young and old teach one another. c.f. Prefigurative where the old teach the young and postfigurative where the young teach the old (Margaret Mead).

Conceptual map see Subjective map

Craft literacy      Skills which are assimilated by the body rather than by the mind and thus can not be transmitted to others through concepts and percepts. Others must acquire those skills for themselves through practicing the skills.

Critical flicker frequency (CFF)      The illusion of motion is based on the phi phenomenon (also called persistence of vision) - the fact that excitation of the sensory neurons "persist" for a short time after the stimulus has gone. The number of still frames per second necessary to create this illusion of motion is called the critical flicker frequency (CFF).

Delayed response      The capacity to delay a response when presented with a stimulus. The length of delay possible is a useful rough index of phylogenetic development. It is significant since it indicates that there are internuncial neurons mediating between sensory and motor neurons. This permits the organism to say "no" to its environment. c.f. Detour behavior The capacity to detour around a barrier to reach a goal. It is significant because it indicates that the behavior of the organism is determined not by the objective world only but also by its subjective map of the world.

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)      The code in which all organisms are written. Some researchers have argued that ontogenetic memory (that acquired during the individual life of an organism), is written in ribonucleic acid (RNA), a biological cousin to DNA, in which phylogenetic memory (that acquired during the evolution of the species to which the organism belongs) is written.

Desktop Production (DTP)      Production of books, magazines and other print products on a computer. c.f. Desktop Video Production (DTVP) - now called Digital Video (DV). Production of films, videos and other image products on a computer.

Desktop Video Production (DTVP)      see Desktop Production (DTP)

Detour behavior      see Delayed response

Digital Versatile Disk (DVD)      A disk the same size as CD Audio and CD-ROM but holding much more information. Since a full-length movie can be stored on the disk - with space left over for much supplementary material, the DVD is gradually replacing the videocassette in video stores. No one calls it Doubtful Very Doubtful any more.

Digital Video (DV)      see Desktop Production (DTP)

Echoic response      see Verbal behavior

Ecosphere      see Triad Model

Electronic superhighway      see Informatics

ETA Report      see GAMMA

Eureka Effect      The sudden realization of the solution to a problem. Such inspiration usually follows considerable perspiration. Also called the aha phenomenon.

Experiential sensitivity      see Informational sensitivity

Extragenetic tools      Tools which are outside the genetic code but still inside the body. c.f. Extrasomatic tools - tools which are outside the body (Carl Sagan).

Extrasomatic tools      see Extragenetic tools

Fiber optic wires      Wires made of glass which can carry considerably more signals that the copper wires which they are replacing.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)      Answers to questions that newcomers to a web site often ask are provided so that they can more quickly join the discussion or whatever activity without unduly disturbing those who are already involved. This tradition within the fourth generation of media can be usefully applied in the second generation here.

GAMMA      Groupe AssociČ des UniversitiČs de MontrČal et McGill pour l'Etude de l'Avenir (GAMMA) was an inter-university, inter-disciplinary think tank based in Montreal. Our Conserver Society Project culminated in a multi-volume report submitted to ten departments of the Federal Government of Canada and a popular book, entitled The Conserver Society [VALASKAKIS ET AL]. The major productions of our Information Society Project were the ETA Report and the TAO Report delivered to our various clients in government (municipal, provincial, and federal), in business, and in global non-government agencies (United Nations University, UNESCO, etc.). The ETA (environmental tracking analysis) Report was an account of the major processes of current change, and the TAO (Threats and Opportunities) Report was an assessment of the implications of those changes for each client.

Ganzfeld      German for "total field". A device for exploring the total visual field. The "pocket Ganzfeld", consisted of two half ping-pong balls placed over the two eyes, produced the same effect as the original Ganzfeld - a six-foot diameter hemisphere.

Global Village      The world shrunk by communication technology to a village (Marshall McLuhan).

Heterophenomenology      see Autophenomenology

Heuristics      The set of skills for organizing information at the source for effective transmission. c.f. Mnemonics      The set of skills for organizing information at the destination for effective reception.

High-definition Television (HDTV) A long-awaited innovation in video technology providing a much better resolution than traditional television.

Human Genome Project      The breaking of the code in which our species is written. It turned into a race between public and private organizations, with the private organizations winning, raising important moral and legal issues about the commercial spin-off from the resultant knowledge.

IMAX      A film technology, developed in Canada, but now exploited in the United States. Huge cameras shoot huge rolls of film to be projected on to huge screens. In the IMAX theaters, the film is high enough and wide enough to include the whole visual field of the viewer, thus making the experience closer to that of the "mind movie". In the OMNIMAX theaters, this effect is further enhanced by projecting the image on a semi-circular surface.

Imprinting      The process by which nature leaves a gap in the unfolding of the genetic program in the development of an organism to be filled in by the environment. Researchers have explored this phenomenon by interfering with nature's plans - for example, by substituting a person for a duck as the first large moving object seen by baby ducks (Konrad Lorenz). The acquisition of language could be considered as an imprinting process, in which nature leaves a large gap to be filled in by the particular language community in which the child is developing.

Informatics      The system created by the convergence of computer nodes and tele-communication links into a network. Electronic superhighway is a metaphorical term for informatics. It has gone out of fashion but should be retained to remind us that informatics is the infrastructure of the information society just as the transportation system was the infrastructure of the industrial society.

Informational sensitivity      The sensitivity of an organism to the information available in its environment. c.f. Experiential sensitivity - that subset of the information available in the environment which becomes part of the experience of the organism. Many empirical studies have demonstrated that information influences human behavior without becoming a part of human experience (Owen Flanagan).

Killer application      A software function which encourages the sale of the faster and fuller hardware necessary to run it.

Language      A hierarchy of units plus rules for combining units at each level to make meaningful units at the next level. The smallest units are phonemes (sounds - corresponding roughly to the letters of the alphabet), which can be combined by the rules of vocabulary to create morphemes (smallest meaningful units - corresponding roughly to words). Those can, in turn, be combined by the rules of grammar into sentences, and those can, in turn, be combined by the rules of logic into discourses.

Language-acquisition device (LAD)      A hypothetical construct in the brain to explain the easy acquisition of language by children during a sensitive period (Noam Chomsky).

Localization      The theory that various psychological functions are precisely localized in certain areas of the central nervous system. c. f. mass action. The theory that, for certain functions, the central nervous system acts as a whole.

MACHO interface      see User interface

Mand      see Verbal behavior

Mass action      see Localization

Mind movie      The mind could be considered as a magnificent movie studio which creates a "mind movie" running continuously throughout a lifetime. It also doubles as a movie theater where we can watch the show. Alas, it has only one seat and we need to become artists to show our home movies. see also Visual field.

Mnemonics       see Heuristics

Moore's Law      The law that computer memory will half in size and cost every 18 months. It has held for the last few decades and it is broadly assumed that it will continue to apply for some time (Gordon Moore).

Morpheme      see Language

Morse Code      see Code

Natural selection       see Theory of Evolution

Net Generation      The generation which has been raised with computers from infancy (Don Tapscott).

Objective world      see Subjective map, Delayed response

Observer effect      Since the person in the center is the element of the sociosphere, the social sciences must deal with the observer effect. That is, what is observed can be changed by the act of observing it, and by the attitudes of the observer. Since the person in the center is the source of the technosphere, in the sciences of the artificial we must deal with the participant effect. That is, the effect on the person can be influenced by the actions of the person. see also WYSIWYG.


Operating Manual for Species Homo Sapiens      A hypothetical manual which helps us operate our nervous systems. The author argues that all normal brains operate according to the same basic principles. Individual differences are a function of the extent to which a person learns those principles, which deal largely with the skills and tools of the four generations of media. The first generation could be considered as the conception-day gift and the other three generations as the unwrapping of this gift over historical time.

Participant effect      see Observer effect

Perceptual map      see Subjective map

Persistence of vision      see Critical flicker frequency (CFF)

Phi phenomenon      see Critical flicker frequency (CFF)

Phoneme      see Language

Phoneme-Grapheme correspondence      Correspondence between the set of elements of speaking (phonemes) and the set of elements of writing (graphemes). Perfect phoneme-grapheme correspondence would facilitate the learning of writing.

Physiological nystagmus      The fact that the eye is constantly moving up and down. This was seen by arrogant humans as a design flaw in nature's invention. However, it was subsequently found to be a useful design feature to ensure that the "film" in the eye "camera" is constantly refreshed.

Postfigurative      see Cofigurative

Prefigurative      see Cofigurative

QWERTY Phenomenon      The traditional qwerty keyboard was originally designed to slow typists down because the keys would stick if one typed too fast. The keys don't stick any more (especially in a computer keyboard) but we are stuck with the keyboard because it has been mastered by so many people. Hence qwerty phenomenon refers to this human tendency to retain inefficient technology because there is a vested interest by those who are familiar with it and competent on it.

Ribonucleic acid (RNA)      see Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)

Sailboat Effect      Sailboat technology improved considerably when the sailboat was challenged by the steamship. Hence sailboat effect refers to improvements in a technology as a result of the emergence of a competing technology.

Satellite      A person-made object orbiting the globe which is capable of relaying electrical signals back to earth.

Semaphore      see Code

Serendipity      The art of finding something by looking for something else.

Siliclone      A silicon clone of yourself. It consists of all your publications and presentations plus your favorite quotes and anecdotes, collected on a CD-ROM or in a web site. It serves as a satellite when you are alive and a surrogate when you are dead. People can visit your mind at your web site rather than your body at your grave site.

Sociosphere      see Triad Model, Observer effect

Standard Social Science Model (SSSM)      The typical model underlying much social science. It assumes that the mind is a "tabula rasa" on which the environment writes.

Staples theory      The theory that a country's economy can be best understood in terms of its raw materials - furs, fish, lumber, etc. in the case of Canada (Harold Innis).

Subjective map      The various maps each of us has of the objective world. The map can be composed of images (perceptual map) or of words (conceptual map). It is a useful heuristic to associate the conceptual map with the left hemisphere of the brain (where the speech center is located) and the perceptual map with the right hemisphere. see also Delayed response.

Synchronous communication      Communication when the sender and receiver are transmitting and receiving at the same time. c.f. Asynchronous communication when the transmission and reception of the message are at different times. With time-shifting devices, communication is becoming more asynchronous.

Tact      see Verbal behavior

Tally      A device for recording information. It showed only quantity without identifying what was being measured. c.f. Token. A device for recording information, which showed the measure plus what was being measured.

TAO Report see GAMMA

Technosphere      see Triad Model, Observer effect

Tetrad      A tool for exploring the impact of any new technology. It consists of a system of four questions you should ask of each such technology (Marshall & Eric McLuhan).

Theory of evolution      The theory that species evolved through the survival of the fittest - that is, of the members of the species who best "fitted" their environment (Charles Darwin).

Token      see Tally

Toronto School      A group of scholars - Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, and various current "new McLuhans" - who argue that media are best understood as extensions of the person. Transportation-telecommunication trade-off (TTT) Trading in you car for a computer, so that you can stay home and acquire information electronically rather than driving around to acquire it physically.

Triad Model      A model in which the person is represented as the triple overlap of three spheres - ecosphere (the natural world), sociosphere (the social world), and technosphere (the person-made world). Those are the domains, respectively, of the natural science, the social sciences, and the "sciences of the artificial" (Herbert Simon).

Turing Machine      An infinite loop of squares, containing either 0 or 1, passing through a device which can either change or retain that symbol. Such a machine can solve any problem which can be clearly stated (Alan Turing).

Turing Test      You are sitting at a terminal linked to another terminal which you can't see. If, by interacting with that other terminal, you can't tell whether it is operated by a person or a machine, then the machine has passed the Turing Test.

User illusion      see User interface

User interface      The relationship between a person and a machine. Early computers were characterized by a MACHO interface, since they were used largely by engineers who were comfortable with technology and technological language. As the use of computers spread beyond this select group, it was necessary for the computer to present a more friendly interface. The WIMP (window-icon-mouse-pulldownmenu) interface wiped out the MACHO interface. It is based on the user illusion that the person is working on documents stored in folders sitting on a desktop.

Vampire Effect      The fact that we tend to remember video information more than audio information when presented by both simultaneously, as in television.

Verbal behavior      Behavior rewarded through the mediation of other people (B. F. Skinner). There are three mechanisms for the acquisition of verbal behavior:

  • Echoic response      The child is rewarded for imitating an adult,
  • Tact      The child names an object in the presence of that object and is given the object (contact),
  • Mand      The child names the satisfier of a need when experiencing the need and is given the satisfier of the need (demand).

Videotext      A hybrid telephone-television system proposed in the 1980s. Every industrialized country was championing its version - Canada the Telidon system, France the Minitel system, and so on. An early precursor of the internet, it was rendered redundant when the internet emerged.

Visual cliff      An apparatus designed to study depth perception in young organisms. It consisted of a glass-topped table with a wooden plank across the middle. One side was designed to look deep (hence "visual" cliff). Young organisms invariably chose the shallow side, demonstrating that they could perceive depth.

Visual field      The snapshot of the world seen by a person at any moment. It could be considered as the "still" in the mind movie.

Wallace Paradox      The fact that the theory of evolution can explain only how we got to a hunter-gatherer society. It can't explain how we managed the transitions from hunter-gatherer to agricultural, industrial, and now information societies over historical time. Evolution moves too slowly to explain such "sudden" changes (Alfred Russel Wallace).

WIMP interface      see User interface


WYSIWYG      What You See Is What You Get. A feature of the user-friendly interface. It is reassuring to the user if what s/he sees on the screen is exactly what will appear when it is printed. The observer effect could be described as WYEIWYG - What You Expect Is What You Get.

Y2K problem      To save precious space, early computers used two digits to represent the year rather than four digits. Thus 1987 was 87 rather than 1987. When we reached the year 2000, then computers would read the year as 00. The Y2K problem was that the computers would go berserk unless those two-digit years were replaced by four-digit years.

Zeitgeist      German for the spirit of the times. The times seem to be ripe for a particular invention, as evidenced by the fact that inventions are often invented simultaneously by two or more people.

Zoopraxiscope      A device consisting of a wheel containing 24 images which when spun presented those images in turn through a gap, creating an illusion of motion. This was the precursor of the movie camera (Edward Muybridge).

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