THE AV INTERVIEW #136

Conducted by: Troy Anderson

Owner/Editor-Chief of AndersonVision (www.andersonvision.com)

Subject:

Charlie Boswell

(author GLOBAL NERDING AND THE AUTISTIC PLANET)

 

 Global Nerding and the Autistic Planet © – 2007 Charles R. Boswell Jr.

The mind should be able to soar high like a bird without any frameworks.  This graphic from the book is intended to illustrate the end result of Global Nerding if left unchecked.   Our minds will behave like blind birds in wheel chairs no longer able to fly or even walk.   The planet will reach nerd equilibrium…..The Autistic Planet is a world where social intelligence is endangered and Global Nerding is the system depleting that resource.

For more on Charlie Boswell check out his blog at http://blogs.amd.com/boswell/default.aspx

CHARLIE BOSWELL (GLOBAL NERDING AND THE AUTISTIC PLANET) 1CHARLIE BOSWELL (GLOBAL NERDING AND THE AUTISTIC PLANET) 3

 

 

1.       What caused you to discover “Global Nerding”?

Some context…My background and career experience have had a lot to do with shaping my views.  I dropped out of music school to become an engineer so I entered the technology world with a purely artistic bent.    I grew up in a farming community in North Missouri which was actually the boyhood home of Walt Disney.   Self entertainment was a necessity.  My mother was a Barrelhouse piano player and my father was military and an engineer.  So I’m a bit of a hybrid.   I’ve been a musician and film maker since my teens.  I became an engineer probably to prove something to my father.    During the latter half of my 25 years in the tech industry I began to become interested in why it’s crowning creation, the PC, is so arcane and non-intuitive.  I’ve struggled with this question.  “If we technologists are such mental wizards, then why is the industry incapable of designing technical solutions people resonate with…on a more regular basis”.     I’m troubled when society generally accepts the fact PC technology “solutions” are non-intuitive.   It’s always fascinated me that whenever some high-tech device comes along that’s actually easy for people to use, the media hails it as miraculous..  Comparatively speaking, they are right.   Why are these devices the exception and not the rule?   Why have most user experiences with the PC been only tolerable?  Why is the PC sullied by pundits incessantly? 

While working as an engineer at AMD I was asked by our CEO to help evangelize our technology to the creative content market.   This opportunity happened purely by accident in 2000 after I caught his attention by writing a film score for a low budget movie in Austin in the late 1999.    Over the past 8 years I’ve worked with some top directors and rock stars and their teams.   All of which use technology in their creative pursuits.   In my discussions and interactions with many artists, they have all shared their stories of struggling with technology.   I’ve witnessed the struggle first hand as my team and I work directly with them to provide solutions.  Their experience is roughly the same as many non-technical people.    It was during this period of observation I began to organize my treatise on Global Nerding.  

Global Nerding is a planetary trend in which mankind is systematically adapting his behavior to technology and its frameworks.   The geek culture has flourished under Global Nerding while non-technical mainstream society has accepted a very non-optimal user experience…as stated specifically from the average user’s point of view.  

If you’re an industry executive, it’s hard to look smart if the numbers don’t support your glorious plans.   The nerd market has almost reached a saturation point and now corporations are competing for more typical users and new user markets.  The average non user segment of society says, “I’m just not a computer person” as they struggle and doubt their own intelligence.   I’ve never liked that for many reasons.   It doesn’t make good business sense either. 

The personal computer, along with its macro economics, is the most tangible agent of Global Nerding because it has become the ubiquitous hub for productivity, communication, commerce, and “creation” in our daily lives.    There is no escape from getting jacked full-into the MATRIX now.   

Pervasive high technology along with its culture and macroeconomic systems began shifting mankind steadily toward a nerd utopian society or a society where individuals with autistic attributes are favored, in fact cultivated.     This is helping melt the social mind of the planet.

Impacts of Global Nerding are manifold…culture, language, and art.   The economic success of the nerd culture has established an infrastructure that encourages us to all to behave like nerds or worse,  conditions us to accept a less than stunning user experience .…in addition, is there a secondary effect of Global Nerding where the nerd gene pool has been cultivated?   Does the autism explosion signal the tipping point in Global Nerding? Is life beginning to imitate technology?    I’m simply asking questions. 

Watching many artists invite technology and the nerd culture into their creative environments, I began to notice some similarity to what I observed watching regular non-technical people use technology.  The artist desires to create at the speed of thought while the consumer desires to become immersed in those creations without becoming an IT professional.    The experiences of both groups are far from optimal.  Who cares?  I care and anyone else who cares about art and commerce.   I have witnessed an almost chronic lack of empathy for most non-tech savvy end users by the high-tech sector.  

 

Why Does Boswell make reference to Autism?

I sit on the board of advisors for a team of researchers and physicians who treat autistic children.  I met this organization at a movie premier through the director Robert Rodriguez.  Their website is www.thoughtfulhouse.org.   When I met the staff at Thoughtful House, I was not just a dabbler in the topic as I had been doing my own research.   I had become interested in autism after reading an article on an airplane describing the autistic as suffering from a chronic lack of empathy for other minds.  This lack of empathy is exhibited by many individuals diagnosed with either autism or Asperger’s Syndrome.  Asperger’s Syndrome is used to describe the higher functioning end of the autistic spectrum where one of the most disabling characteristics in a sometimes brilliant or gifted individual is a lack of empathy with others. In many instances the autistic person is literally medically incapable of empathy with another mind.   This condition is called Mind Blindness and is common in all forms of autism.  The severity depends upon where the person is within the spectrum.  I saw a similar lack of empathy within the high tech industry…lack of empathy for the end user that is.   I also noticed the language of corporate America to be very machine like.   High-tech language is very “bare-message” oriented.   Autistic minds cannot deal with ostensive forms of communication and rely upon bare message styles.  Metaphor and analogy are completely out of reach for many of these individuals.  Overtime I became more involved with some researchers in the field of autism here in Austin and I began support their research and their work with the families of autistic children.    My personal mission is to help raise awareness on the plight of autistic children and their families and also increase the level of empathy for end users of technology.   This is my cause celeb.

 

2.       Does the increasing speed of tech development have something to do with this sense of nerd farming?

Having grown up on a farm, I recognize animal husbandry and horticulture when I see it.   The computer industry has done a lot to promote individuals some very gifted individuals whose mental prowess is mainly left hemisphere centric…logic centric.   High technology is built upon a field of highly abstract formal systems which requires those who can and must do a Vulcan mind meld in that world.  Has the high tech industry helped to aggregate a larger gene pool of those genetically predisposed to autism or Asperger?

 

3.       What do you feel about the ethical impact of Global Nerding?  Could it be retooled to make it more acceptable?

Let me make clear I am not bashing the culture or the high tech industry.   I’m an advocate for the end user.  I’m also a technologist.  I use technology in my workflow and I depend upon it daily.   I work through problems as do my peers and colleagues.    I am asking more of my industry.  I want a better experience…one designed specifically for me.   I want an experience that respects my mind.    I do think it’s a matter of ethics.  Technology purveyors are showing responsibility in area of energy conservation with all these green initiatives.  That’s great.   I believe they should also show respect for the end user experience because it also affects the planetary social mind.  Every computer crash is a crime against the user and his mind.  There is a physiological and physiological impact when working in a prolonged state of frustration.  The user pushes through and ends up with more of a feeling of relief than exhilaration for the experience.  I believe that completely.   What other industry would put up with that?   All technology should pay respect for the most important computer…the real personal computer…the one that sits on your shoulders.  That is equally or more important than saving the glaciers.   I like to think of myself as the CEO…Chief Empathy Officer…for the artist, regular person, whoever interacts with technology.   I respect my stockholders who pay me to think.   Global Nerding must be recognized for what it is.    It is a framework where the arbiters of taste for quality of the end user of experience are the comparatively small numbers of the technorati or nerds.     The user community has been conditioned to accept the nerd experience quality standard as optimal.   In Global Nerding, the nerds are the norm.  If I’m buying, I want solutions and technology that respect me and how I feel after spending copious time on one these devices.    The free market is the great purifier.     Technology firms are already looking beyond just the engineering ranks for creative talent to keep them competitive.   Just take a look at Business Week if you don’t believe me.  Firms are stalking design schools to hunt down for top talent rather than relying solely upon engineering campuses.   The industry is waking up to the fact… nerds only beget more nerds.  If we want to expand our markets we must design for more regular people.   For that we need creative individuals and those who can empathize with end users.    Remember that schlock movie Mars Needs Women?  The Hi-tech INDUSTRY NEEDS WOMEN!  Women are fantastic technologists, communicators, and above all – empathizers.  Some of the most brilliant computer architects I’ve met have been women.  The tech sector should hire as many as possible.   It’s good for the planet suffering from Global Nerding.

 

4.       Why doesn’t the mainstream media cover  Global Nerding more?

I don’t think mainstream media is aware of it.    I gave it name.    The media has begun to give me more coverage after I coined Global Nerding and began to use the words “autism and Asperger.”    I’m saying the industry behaves like an autistic in its inability to empathize.    If taken to the extreme, I could be offering the world an explanation for why PC’s are non-intuitive.  A medical explanation.

 

5.       Do you feel like its a little kneejerk to tie the Global Nerding trend into Autism?

Not for a millisecond because my tie is really just an analogy.  All of my references to autism are because of the autistic “lack of empathy” displayed by the high-tech sector for their end users.  If any industry has a high percentage of individuals with a specific behavior type or style, that behavior is likely to be manifested in that industry’s products and services to a measurable degree.  Again, this is another farm boy observation.   I hope I can draw more attention to helping autistic children and the autistic in society.     My book is dedicated and its proceeds to helping autistic children and their families.   In a similar vain, I’m also very concerned about improving the experiences of people using computer technology.  I have to say reflecting back on my journey that it’s very strange how this all interrelates.

 

6.       What about the correlation to Asperger’s?

Asperger’s is on the spectrum of autistic behavior.   Some individuals diagnosed with Asperger are also referred to high-functioning autistics.  In either case, the individual will have certain characteristics common to classic autism…generally a lack of empathy for other minds which renders the person socially awkward because of their inability to recognize social cues.   “A computer is an introverts best friend” …Boswell from Global Nerding and the Autistic Planet

 

7.       For the readers that are unfamiliar, would you care to share your thoughts on the Nerd Mind vs. the Quantum Mind?

In my book I give an analogy between Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and what I call the Aesthetic Uncertainty Principle.   I discuss two historical phases in the PC industry.  This first phase is the period where mechanical type writers became word processors.  I gave the analogy to the period of classical physics.   The period is complete and well understood.   The phase we are in now is characterized by computers and their cultures becoming a part of our thinking and creative processes…machines getting close to our brains so to speak.  This is the quantum phase.  The quanta in this analogy are human thoughts and expressions.   Technology can disturb and alter our ability to achieve an aesthetic.    I recommend we approach technology solutions in the quantum phase as perfect balances between artistic performance and production power.   This is a statement of reverential respect for the mind.   They say pick your friends wisely.   I say the same about technology.  Crappy technology can be like hanging out with stupid or boring people…over time you will find yourself enjoying their humor and activities.  This is Global Nerding.

 

8.       What’s currently in your iPod?

 

My entire CD collection…I don’t use iTunes but load in my collection by hand.  It is simple and it been a positive addition of technology in my life.   I wish the fidelity was better.  Society continues to trade convenience for quality.  I do it myself.   Compression technology is designed to mask technology limitations of either space or bandwidth.    This style of thinking is part of Global Nerding trend and mindset.     We think and make decisions based upon what the technology allows.   Where is the user experience in this?  This is why I’m speaking up on behalf of both those creating and those consuming.    I refuse to bow down to the technology and its culture of “frameworks.”   Let’s create new technology instead.

 

9.       Do you feel that AMD has a hand in the Global Nerding trend?

Global Nerding is happening during a critical period in our history.  We are examining the impacts we as a species are having on the environment and our physical health.  I suggest we take a look at the impact our gadeteering has had upon the environment of the mind…our culture.  No one is to blame.   Humans created this technology but we have stepped off the throne and have bowed to the technology and its culture.   The High Technology Imperative or whatever you want to call it continues to drive economies.   As a species, we never rest in the area of inventing new tools or ways to entertain ourselves.    It is just a peculiar time in our history in which the technology is so abstract that certain left hemisphere centric individuals are required to advance and maintain it.   If we allow optimal experiences to be solely defined by these tech savvy individuals then the result is Global Nerding.   There are many 2nd order effects of Global Nerding such as language becoming more autistic friendly…the effects are regenerative and accelerating.

 

10.   Will technology ever find a means of empathy with the consumer?

I believe it has to.   High tech firms can’t just continue to send a bunch of engineer-cum-marketing types off to some “put the customer first” school.  The corporate culture itself must change to respect the end user first.  Women must become a more integral part of the high-tech.   I’m convinced the high-tech user experience has suffered because women have not been more central to both engineering and product development within the industry.   Balance must be achieved with the organization with technology people and those who can communicate and empathize with customers or partners.   I mentioned previously I grew up in Walt Disney’s home town.   Walt’s most important contribution was Disneyland because it serves as a way to illustrate the proper place for technology and its culture…below the street and invisible.   The customer experience is job-one in Disneyland and not just an afterthought.   I love the free market and believe those firms who are truly considerate of the end user will prevail.  This is good for the planet and helps mitigate the effects of Global Nerding.   This is why I love being part of the AMD team because our culture and technology respects the end user.   The individual is respected inside AMD first and foremost and I speak from personal experience and not as a corporate shill.    All of us on the combined AMD and ATI teams are seeking to create not just a better experience but the optimal experience for users of solutions that bear our name.  We’re not waiting for anyone to show us the way either.   We are driven by both business factors and doing what’s ethical and right on behalf of world consumers.  That is our culture and not some flavor of the week marketing ploy. 

 

11.   Is it realistic to have such expectations?

To not have such expectations is to become victim to Global Nerding.  The moment consumers stop wanting a better experience the battle is over.   I hope to encourage people all over the world to demand their computers become more robust and considerate of their day to day experience.   I reemphasize you should choose your friends and your technology wisely.  

 

12.   What was it like working with Dweezil Zappa?

Dweezil has been a pleasure to work with.   I’m proud to call him my friend after working with him for six years on several records and one film.   He was relatively new to computers when we met but dove in head first on a couple projects.  Dweezil respects the creative process as did Frank.   My first council to Dweezil was to not let the technology compromise his creative vision.   Frank would mold technology to suit his vision and never adapt his vision to the technology.    Dweezil uses technology as did his father…to realize what’s in his head.  This is the model for way people should use technology.    Dweezil expects the technology to deliver much and he pushes the envelope constantly.    He is at a point now where he knows more about the software than those people who sell it because he uses it constantly on very complex projects.   Again, another example of why companies need to maintain close ties with customers because you can learn from them and advance your product.    You have to pick the right customer for this model to work.  Dweezil is certainly the right customer to learn from.   One technology company in particular uses what I call “the gratuitous famous person” to market around…you find a celebrity and write them a check…this is a giant waste of stock holder’s money and it’s not based in truth.   Proud to say we don’t use that trick ruse at AMD.  We don’t want to work anyone who is for sale.  They need to go with the other guys…we seek out the innovator who actually uses the technology and we work with them on real projects.   Dweezil is currently on tour with Zappa Plays Zappa www.zappaplayszappa.com  and he is using AMD technology to record every show.  This is part of the AMD LIVE program, and the website is www.amd64live.com.

 

13.   Does social development really have a place among tech engineers?

No.

 

14.   The whole treatise seems to be really warm in a cold environment. If such changes were implemented, what would be the impact in the short-term?

I want a better user experience.  I refuse to bow to the technology or the nerd culture.  The technology must serve my needs or go immediately to a landfill.  In the quantum phase we’re in, we must begin to pay more respect for the human mind.  We need to define what that optimal user experience is and how to measure it.   If successful, there’s a huge economic upside as new users discover and resonate with the technology.   It is good for the planet because we are seeking to place humanity on top of technology.   Global Nerding, like Global Warming didn’t happen overnight.   I hope one of the short term positive impacts will be that tech customers begin to demand better user experiences or learn to say “GIVE MY MONEY BACK!”…or in Global Nerding bare message speak “Return Materials Authorization.”

15.   What’s your favorite film?

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p class=”MsoListParagraph”>Tim Burton’s “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure”.

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