Transitions from knowledge to literacy (as regards Comic Sans)

I just watched the new VSauce video about Comic Sans, which made a lot of points I already knew (like that Comic Sans is incredibly readable on aliased screens) and a lot of points I didn't (The British Dyslexia Association recommends Comic Sans for children who struggle with making out letters.[1. I checked out their Dyslexia Style Guide, I'm doing pretty well here, I think, but there's room for improvement.  I will keep it in mind next time I make changes to the website design.]). One of the things he talks about is that Comic Sans hate might be a symptom of increasing design literacy following the digital revolution, the way there was increasing regular literacy following the invention of the printing press.

This inspired a wild speculation that I wanted to expand on here:

Every time new types of media come out, there are people who complain that it's going to ruin knowledge, because people who write things down will stop bothering to remember them / people who watch TV are going to forget how to read / people who get all their entertainment on the internet have no attention spans anymore.

And, in fact, there's some science to back some of that stuff up.  Not all of it, but some.  The Google Effect, for example, describes a tendency for people to not bother remembering things they believe they can easily find out online.

My thought is that, as humanity's knowledge grows, and our base of understanding progresses, we do start to forget the earlier layers of stuff.  Rather than trying to know everything that an individual would need to have known a hundred years ago -- stuff that's still important, but that not everyone needs to pay attention to -- instead we learn a system for acquiring that information, and entrust it to our civilization to continue to provide the infrastructure that backs those skills up.

And that's what I mean by literacy -- it's a systematic replacement of specific knowledge with a general method for acquiring that sort of knowledge.

Now, I think there's a lot to be gained by having a lot of stuff in your head.  But there are types of things that are easier to leave to Google, and types of things that are better to store all together in your mind.  You often learn the first chunk to move on to the second -- learning who various politicians are in order to understand a political system -- but if it's not part of your everyday job, it's okay to just understand that system, and be ready to Google a name you know you recognize but you can't place.

I really like the idea that we're acquiring design literacy as a civilization, because it means that individuals are taking into their own hands the responsibility of making their lives and their world beautiful -- which is, like, super-important.

Is magic art?

Cory Doctorow posted a video, embedded below, that asks that question: [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNGDoroJtYw]

A lot of the magicians interviewed draw a distinction between hobbyists, or birthday party performers, and the people who "raise magic ... to an artistic level."  This distinction bugs me -- particularly, it bothers me because in more mainstream artistic professions, we acknowledge that practitioners are artists even if they aren't creating their own art, even if they aren't very good at it.

Acting is a good example.  A performer who is in a school production of Romeo and Juliet is participating in the creation of art.  If they do a bad job, then they do a bad job.  But you can't fail to create art of some quality if you're trying to do something artistic.  Reproducing other peoples' art is art.  Reproducing banal, overwrought art is art.  Doing magic tricks that you learned in a book, badly, is still art.

art v. pornography

One of the magicians said, "If a person doesn't feel, there is no art."  He dismisses pornography as not artistic, because it's too visceral, and drew the analogy between that and magic.  He called most magicians 'magic pornographers.'

This highlights the biggest problem I have with arguments about what is or isn't art -- people dismiss the kinds of emotions that seem to relate most to our bodies, or our visceral experience of life, as not-art.  People say that cooking isn't art, that porn isn't art, that, apparently, magic isn't art, because the emotions and experiences they evoke are present, rather than evoking something less present, some sort of sense about the future or the past.

I guess what they're defending is a sense of art as immortality -- for example, they dismiss any artist that does other people's tricks, and argue that what makes a trick artistic is trying to put your own emotions, your own story, into it -- but I think we're seriously missing out if that's all that we consider art.

Art doesn't have to be a unique expression of the person creating it.  Art can be a more general expression of an idea, by someone who just wants to help that idea along.  Amateur magicians who want to help create a sense of wonder in the world are artists because they're working to encourage and promote the importance of an emotion.

Not everyone has something new to say, and there's power and significance in creating art that's just there to say "I agree," or "Hey, remember, this is important."  That's why cooking is art.  That's why porn is (granted, sometimes extremely problematic) art.  That's why magic is art.[1. I should note that there are certainly examples of self-immortalization in cooking, porn, and magic.  Unfortunately, the case that usually gets made in this argument is "That's not really porn," or "That's not really just a magic trick," and I imagine there must be cases where someone or other has argued, "That's not really food."]

I think that we have an intuitive understanding that art is important, and I think that dismissing things as being not-art is an attempt to avoid accepting responsibility for one's relationship with culture.

That is all.