Vapor Trails

Ima go Star Trek nerd on you for a minute. My favorite Star Trek movie is “Wrath of Khan.” My *second favorite* is directed by the same guy, Nicholas Meyer: “The Undiscovered Country.” This is the movie with Kirk and McCoy framed and imprisoned for the murder of a Klingon Ambassador, meanwhile the real assassin is flying around in a Klingon Bird of Prey that can fire when cloaked — meaning it can shoot at other ships while it’s invisible. This is special, important, disruptive and interesting because it is a break from the established “rules” of the Star Trek universe to that point. Up to this point in the Star Trek timeline, ships can’t shoot while cloaked.

Chang's Bird of Prey fires when cloaked.

Chang’s Bird of Prey fires when cloaked.

Spock and McCoy figure out a way to attack a ship they can’t see: they hook up gas sensors to a torpedo because even while invisible, all ships have exhaust, even if you can’t see it. Kirk yells “Fire” in his awesome Shatner way and you see the torpedo locking in on the invisible Klingon ship, and inside the ship, the Klingons know they are done for as the torpedo approaches closer and closer.



There’s a whole lot of learning happening that is largely invisible to ourselves and our organizations. So much of what we read, scan, review, comment on, share, talk about — both online and offline — goes unnoticed. We know what we’re doing in the moment, but unless we’re super motivated to reflect (or we’re just super reflective) it’s difficult to make sense of all the things we’re doing — how they might connect and make sense, what our activities reveal about ourselves and our organizations, etc.

In Bruce Sterling’s book, Shaping Things, he talks about spimes as objects that share all sorts of information about itself and its use. This is more and more what our world is like. As a result, we’re becoming overloaded with information with no easy ways to manage the entirety of it, let alone make some higher-order meaning out of it.

One of the things that we’re trying to do with the “Tin Can” API, both from the design of it and in its implementation as a spec, is to generate a recognizable vapor trail so that we can each make sense of what we do and wrangle all this information that could be accessible to us if we just knew where/how to look for it. By creating a common format to express all the information about what we’re doing, we make it easier to look at all of the information.

That makes it easier for us to have apps and tools that will help us find a greater meaning in what we’re doing. That helps us make more informed choices about what we’re doing in connection with what we might want to do.

Sure, I think the next big things in technology are going to be about working smarter. I think helping us lock-in on what we’re doing, as gestalt, is about living smarter.

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