Walking People analysis


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An analysis of Paula Underwood's The Walking People

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Walking People analysis

  1. 1. The Walking People Construed as a Persistent Conversation Authors’ name omitted for draft paper Abstract her branch of the Iroquois tribe. While there are no specific “dates,” it is clear that the history extends In this paper, we argue that The Walking People over many millennia. From internal evidence, it isby Paula Underwood can be profitably conceived of clear that the oral history serves many purposes thatas a persistent conversation. Evidence is obtained are similar to those of other persistent conversations.from the narrative sections of the book (which The history serves to transfer knowledge acrossconstitute an oral history of her branch of the individuals, time, and space. It further serves asIroquois) as well ancillary material from the author motivation and inspiration for those facing newthat describe, for example, the way in which difficulties and challenges. Both the process ofdesignated storytellers are selected and trained and producing the on-going history and the product of thathow the listeners to the oral history are meant to process serve as an important source of cultural andinteract with the text. individual identity. The book, The Walking People also importantly includes additional material by Paula1. Introduction Underwood that describes the processes involved in using and preserving the contents of the oral history. Much can undoubtedly be learned about a genreby careful study of some quintessential examples. In many examples of contemporary persistentArguably, additional insights may be learned by conversation, we implicitly assume that ourcareful study of boundary cases. In fact, it is technology provides an accurate record extendingprecisely boundary conditions that stories typically indefinitely into the future. In reality, it is not at allfocus on. In a complex world in which it is clear that “persistent” conversations of today will beimpossible to explore every portion of a highly multi- accessible in 100 years, let alone 10,000 or 100,000.dimensional space, a good heuristic is to focus instead In the past as “distant” as 1967, I documented my firston boundary conditions [1]. Hence, one mechanism project in graduate school with video tape. I have notthat humans have evolved for transmitting knowledge seen a working machine capable of playing such tapesabout complex environments is to tell stories about anywhere in the last 30 years. Films fade; paperboundary cases. (Indeed, there is an analogy here disintegrates; magnetic media demagnetize; and evenwhich is more than accidental to the mathematical when the records themselves remain intact, thetheorem: “A linear function defined over a convex hardware and software needed to read these records, ifpolygon takes on its maximum and minimum value at anything, is changing faster than ever.a corner point of the convex polygon” [2]. The oral history of the Walking People begins In this paper, we examine a boundary case of with a great tragedy which nearly destroyed all theirpersistent conversation, The Walking People [3]. In previous learning (as well as the people themselves!).the first section of this paper, we will argue that The Partly for this reason, the Walking People developedWalking People can be profitably viewed as a numerous mechanisms for insuring the persistence ofpersistent conversation by examining the ways in their oral history. This paper examines thesewhich it is persistent and the ways in which it is a mechanisms and compares them with contemporaryconversation. In the second section of the paper, we mechanisms. In addition, we explore the ways inwill argue that it is highly likely that The Walking which the oral history is a conversation amongPeople is an accurate account. Evidence will be contemporary individuals within the tribe, aprovided based on both the content and the processes conversation among tribes, a “conversation” withused to ensure accuracy. We conclude by physical reality, and a bidirectional communicationspeculating on how some of the ideas in The Walking across generations.People may provide guidance for modern technologymean to support persistent conversation. It is often presumed that a “written” record that is millennia old is accurate while oral histories cannot The Walking People by Paula Underwood includes be because the latter are all subject to kinds ofthe written English transcription of the oral history of distortions that occur by analogy to the well-known
  2. 2. parlor demonstration, “The Telephone Game.” We everyone with normal hearing can hear what is said.challenge this comparison at both ends. First, written Second, the songs and stories are told to groups ofrecords often need to be transcribed and this allows people simultaneously. Third, the point of the oralfor the possibility of unintentional error and for tradition is only secondarily entertainment. Primarily,intentional repurposing of material. Second, written this is how knowledge crucial to survival is passed onrecords are often translated across languages. Any from one generation to the next. It is serious business.such process is inherently open to error and No-one would think it “humorous” to introduce ainterpretation. Third, and most importantly, even if a potentially life-threatening distortion into an oralwritten record in the form of a set of symbols stays history; for instance, to change the description of aabsolutely constant over millennia, the interpretation vast desert to a lush and verdant forest. Fourth, thethat people put on those symbols changes. As one oral tradition typically is filled with internalexample of this process, the United States Supreme redundancy. Fifth, precisely because people rely onCourt, prior to the American Civil War interpreted the these stories for understanding how to survive, theyUnited States Constitution as putting limits on are trained to be excellent at recalling such stories.Federal Law only. After the Civil War, the SupremeCourt consistently interpreted the US Constitution as 2. The Walking People constitutesproviding constraints, not only on Federal Law but persistent conversation.also on State and Local Laws as well. This changewas not debated in Congress. No explicit laws orAmendments were made. The Zeitgeist changed, and 2.1 The material is persistent.with it the interpretation. This fundamental change There are both process and content reasons totook place in less than half a century. A similar support the thesis that the conversation is persistent.example are the two cases of Plessy vs. Ferguson The walking People is likely to be persistent because(1896) and Brown vs. The Board of Education of there is internal redundancy. For example, on p. 29:Topeka, Kansas (1954) in which the Supreme Courtgave opposite interpretations as to the And a Great Resolve swept through themconstitutionality of “separate but equal” And they said this so often to each otheraccommodations. How then could we imagine that the That it became a Song for Walking.interpretation a (lone) reader in today’s LET US LEARNtechnologically sophisticated world would put on a FROM EVERY WAKING MOMENT.5000 year old written manuscript would be the same LET US LEARNas someone living 5000 years ago? EVEN AS WE SLEEP. LET US LEARN Now, let us examine the validity of the “telephone AND WATCH OUR BROTHER WALKINGgame” as evidence for the necessary inaccuracies in EVEN THOUGHoral traditions. First, notice that the “telephone HE CHOOSE A SHARP AND STONY PATH.game” asks that participants whisper a message tosomeone. Second, notice that in the “telephonegame,” each participant whispers their message to oneand only one recipient. No opportunity is given to NOW THE PEOPLE SANG A NEW SONGcross check across listeners or, in the case of LET US LEARN ALL WE CANuncertainty to ask the speaker to repeat. Third, the LET US SEE ALL THERE ISwhole point of the game is the entertainment value in LET US HEAR EVERY SOUNDthe distortion. It would be a completely boring LET THOSE WHO COME AFTERexercise if the outcome of the game were that the last RECEIVE THIS GIFT.person recalled verbatim what the first person said.The demand characteristics on the participants are to The Walking People is likely to be persistentintroduce distortion. Fourth, what is spoken is often a because the songs were repeated often. Notice thesingle de-contextualized sentence or story. Fifth and implication in the above passage. They calledfinally, today we are trained in our culture to rely on themselves the walking people because much of theirwritten records and very little attention is given in our history was a great migration from Asia to theeducation and training on the ability to recall what is northwestern part of North America, down the coast,said verbatim. All of these situational factors are across the Great Plains all the way to the Atlanticcompletely different in oral traditions generally and Ocean and then back to the Great Lakes. In othercertainly specifically different in the case of The words, they walked a lot! The passage above suggestsWalking People. First, the songs and stories in an oral that, at least this section of song, was not somethingtradition are sung loudly enough during silence that
  3. 3. reserved for once a year special celebrations but that xiv): “When it finally seemed to me that I might riskit was a song sung during walking itself. ‘giving back’ one whole section to my father, I learned something new. I was asked to give it back to The Walking People is likely to be persistent him three times – in three different ways – no one ofbecause all learn the narrative. Everyone is which could be the way in which my father presentedencouraged to learn the stories. This introduces it to me.redundancy across the individual memories within thetribe. On the other hand, there is also a mechanism to “I should be able, you see, to demonstrate anresolve possible differences by careful selection and absolute understanding so sure that I could restate it intraining of a designated storyteller. any contemporary language, so that it might be more understood than ‘wondered at.’ As my father pointed The Walking People is likely to be persistent out, language changes! Many people did not evenbecause there are designated storytellers. Both of the understand the language of Shakespeare which hisabove two points are illustrated by the passage below: mother often read out loud. Little value in a history so(p. 42). couched.”“If only First Among Us sings these songs At a more meta-level, The Walking People is who will sing them next?” likely to be persistent because they are aware of the possibility of inaccuracies and change beingAND WE SAW introduced. Indeed, this is precisely why some of the THAT THERE WAS WISDOM IN HER above mechanisms exist. For example, on p. 480:WORDS. “We who were concernedAND IT CAME TO BE that too many Ancient Songs That all vied each to every other might lie scattered and forgot To be the one to sing her…her own songs. along so continuous a path now are concerned Until Snow on Top became angry with our noise that these same songs And spoke to us as one may lie scattered Who would turn away from her People on this easeful Earth so long And said – that the very nature of sky waters will carry away all traces “I shall walk on – of what we presently value.” Let none come to meet me Until you have agreed among yourselves AND ALL SAW IT WAS SO, Who shall sing next.” THAT ONE WAY AND THE OTHER… ALL THIS ANCIENT WISDOM The Walking People is likely to be persistent MIGHT YET BE LOSTbecause they use careful selection and training TO SUBSEQUENT OTHERS.procedures for the designated storytellers. Thisprocess is actually described in greater detail in One of the reasons, in terms of content, to believeanother of Paula Underwood’s books [4]. However, that the conversation is persistent is that there is a lackin the addendum to The Walking People (p. 814), she of revision toward consistency. When later learningexplains, “Training in this tradition can begin in shows some earlier custom to be in error, both theinfancy and may continue nonstop throughout life. earlier custom and the later revision are included.Total oral and visual recall is the goal, so that you This issue is explored below under “accuracy.”develop the ability to “re-hear” a speech as if youwere playing an audio tape in your head or “re-see” 2.2. The material constitutes conversation.an event as if you were screening a movie of what youjust saw. You are tested again and again for capacity The Walking People is a report of conversationsin these areas.” among people who lived long ago. This claim is simply that a good deal of the text includes purported The Walking People is likely to be persistent conversations among the people. There is no reportedbecause the processes involved in using it require, not idle chit-chat. The conversations are always about theonly verbatim recall, but interactive “deep pros and cons of various ways of living; decisions toprocessing” of the material as well. For example, be made about what to do and where to go. (p. 739):Paula Underwood [3] explains part of her training: (p.
  4. 4. NOW in the nature of their arguments THE CIRCLE OF THE PEOPLE GATHERED with neighbor Peoples..AND NOW “SO LEARN THAT WAY, Each brought the gift of individual vision that all our People to add to the understanding may surely learn from you of the Whole People. an understanding that will meet and even exceed The Walking People is a kind of “conversation” our need for understanding.”with physical reality. The people engage in groupproblem solving efforts while they try to wrestle with This is but one example, but the more generalmany physical realities. How can we cross a series of point is that the Walking People always tried to learnislands when storms may wash us away? How can we something of value from every other tribe that theycross treacherous mountains without falling? How encountered.can we encourage plants to grow near us so we neednot walk so far? The Walking People is a conversation between generations. At many points, people are considering The Walking People is a conversation with other the impact on future generations; the impact of theirtribes. After the day of “Rocks like Rain”, the current actions but also of the kind of intellectualwalking people encounter two tribes on their way to legacy that they are leaving. For instance, on p.the land bridge, one hostile and one friendly. They 63-64:also encounter a solitary survivor from a third tribewho had attempted to cross the string of islands and AND A FIRM RESOLVE SWEPT THROUGH THEM.been washed away by a great storm. In NorthAmerica, they meet and interact with a variety of A purposetribes. In one case on the West Coast, they meet with other than attaining a second island home.people on boats who come from “Hah-Vah-Ee-Kay.” THEY DECIDEDSome of these people, however, had forgotten their To be a Peopleorigins and this possibility of forgotten knowledge who would perpetuate and refineworried The Walking People and further strengthened this manner of ordered counciltheir resolve not to forget their own history. which they had achieved So that the children’s children’s children Much later in the narrative, they meet a war-like might benefit from greater understanding…people who insist that they move away from theirhome near a beautiful lake (Lake Ontario) and instead AND A SENSE OF TOMORROWmove to a marshy area which caused disease. The ENTERED THEIR HEARTSWalking People then, after much debate, decide to AND NEVER AGAIN LEFT THEM.learn the war-like skills of this other tribe. (p. 738): SUCH WISDOM IS OUR GIFT“You go out from here FROM THOSE WHO WENT BEFORE. to learn new and harmful ways – and to bring back to the People MAY WE OFFER EQUAL MEASURE this new understanding. TO THOSE WHO FOLLOW US.“But as we are a People The Walking People is not meant to be a narrative who would do no unnecessary harm.. passively listened to, but the occasion for interactive learning. This is not all that obvious from the“So are we a People narrative text itself, but is clear from the Addendum. who do not send you forth For example (p. 826): lightly regarding your life or learning.… “Page 328: ‘Great Swimmers’ --- Here the Teller“As we are not a Water Walking People will at some subsequent time (if the listener does not) and yet learn the nature raise the issue of ‘can we learn to breathe from those of birch bark water craft – who breathe only water?’ Thus encouraging the so let it be with this also. listener to understand that these Great Swimmers were addicted to open air, even as we.“Whatever it is they do
  5. 5. “It is the same with talking. If the listener does correspondingly, there is an increase in tension on thenot notice what this passage may imply, then some part of the readers [5]. This is not so in The Walkingexploratory questions may be asked. But all of this People. Moreover, even in more minor ways, there issection is very, very implicit – and meant to be that a conscious prioritization of accuracy over drama.way. You must work at understanding .. and therefore For example, on p. 250:truly learn. NOW “In part, this grows out of the cultural preference IT WOULD PLEASE ME TO TELL YOUfor self-learning. If I tell you what’s ‘right,’ whatever That the Peoplethat may be, you’ll never figure it out for yourself. In Found great difficulty in this transit.part, it’s a structure which allows you to go back and IT WOULD PLEASE ME TO TELL YOUthink more nearly as people thought then, rather than IT WAS SO…passing the images through the prism of present SO THAT MORE MIGHT LEARNlanguage and assumptions.” WHAT MIGHT BE OVERCOME BY A PURPOSEFUL PEOPLE.3. The Walking People is an accurate YET I TELL YOU NOW IT WAS NOT SO.recounting. There is no deification in The Walking People. Accuracy and persistence are related but different None of the humans who perform unusual or heroicconcepts. One might have a set of processes for deeds are portrayed as “gods” or “goddesses.” Norcontinually changing content in the light of new are natural events couched in terms of the actions ofevidence. If old versions were not kept, then such a unseen gods or goddesses. Finally, none of theconversation would increase in accuracy over time but motivations and decisions described in The Walkingnot be “persistent.” Conversely, one could imagine a People is ascribed to a “higher power.” The tribecompletely imaginary creation myth that nonetheless convenes and debates the pros and cons of somewas well-preserved over time. It would be persistent, action or approach, but these are always talked aboutbut not accurate. While the two concepts are not in terms of actual consequences. No-one says, “Well,necessarily correlated, in the case of The Walking that is all well and good, but I have heard from God,People, I believe they are related. The Walking and He says we should do thus and so.”People is clearly not meant merely as a history but isalso meant as a guide to current action. It is The events described in The Walking People areimportant to the people that the narrative remains both physically and psychologically believable. In overhistorically accurate and that it change through 800 pages of narrative, no bushes burst into flame; noaddition to reflect new or additional learning. In fact, seas suddenly part; no-one levitates; never does apart of the evidence for persistence and accuracy is person turn into a snake or vice versa. There are nothat when new learning causes an old assumption to miracles reported. Similarly, there are no incidentschange, the earlier narrative is not revised to reflect where characters perform unexplainable orthe change and make it appear that the beliefs and unmotivated actions. This is true both of individualscustoms were more consistent over time than they and of the group as a whole. For example, when aactually were. difficult decision must be made, with wisdom on various sides, there are always some people who3.1. The content of The Walking People speak for each of the possible courses of action.provides evidence for its accuracy. There is no false consensus reported in this narrative. All reasonable positions of dialogue are represented. The travels through various lands aregeographically consistent. This correspondence is The Walking People narrative does notdetailed on pages 818-832 of [3]. dichotomize into “us/good” vs. “them/bad.” The walking people prefer their own way of doing things, There is no story-arc in The Walking People. but are happy to learn new skills from others. OtherThere are dramatic events and important tribes that come into conflict with the walking peopleconversations reported throughout The Walking are not described as evil; the two tribes simply havePeople. Yet, there is no sense of increasing oscillation different goals or approaches. Late in the narrative,of story value as the narrative “progresses.” In most when the walking people do go to war, they offer(though not all) novels, plays, and films there is a those who are taken prisoner the option of death ortendency for the stakes to increase and
  6. 6. joining the walking people. (This may also constitute when she could no longer, she herself would cause herthe first standardized intelligence test!). son’s death. Eventually, the son found a task for himself; viz., when the people went into new In some cases, later events clearly show that the environments, he would be the one to try out all thewalking people made a bad decision. But this is not new plants and discover which ones were edible andattributed to evil gods or the inherent badness of those which ones were poisonous. Thus, on p. 468:who counseled for the bad decision. Rather, theyattempt to learn what went wrong in their decision AND ALL SAW HOW IT WAS,making and how to do better next time. For example, How all valued the presenceearly in the narrative, after crossing to North America, of True Mother and of her True Sonthe walking people come to an area with very little so greatlyfood and water. Eventually, they make the difficult that, for this gift alone, many were happyand heart-rending decision to leave the small children to join in such carrying.behind. The only option appears to be to risk thedestruction of the entire tribe. They reason that if the The point, in this context, is that the narrativeadults survive, they will be able to have more children makes no attempt to judge, in moral terms, either thelater. This decision is not without controversy. previous custom or the subsequent alteration; nor isUltimately, however, this is what is decided and the there any attempt to retrospectively alter the telling ofsmall children are essentially poisoned. One of the the previous custom. They simply discovered anotheryouths is so upset by this decision that he also drinks way of looking at things that led them to change theirthe poison in protest. As it turns out, the walking custom.people encounter more plentiful food and water verysoon. It becomes clear that they did not need to kill 3.2 The processes surrounding The Walkingthe very young after all. If one of the points of this People give credence to its accuracynarrative was to somehow “prove” how great or howgood the walking people were, it seems clear that this These processes have already been discussedpart of the narrative would be expunged or re-told. A above in the section on persistence. Persistence doescommon modern ploy might be to say, “This is what not necessarily prove accuracy of course. However, ifwe almost did and we are certainly glad that we did one combines probable persistence with the evidencenot.” from content factors mentioned, at least one likely conclusion is that the record is also accurate. Recognizing this decision (in retrospect) as amistake led to a change in custom. (p. 812). “Myfather helped me to see that the needless and harmful 4. Applications to Modern Technologydecision made at ‘Sad Partings’ – about 70 years after‘Rocks Like Rain’ measured by the age of She of The Walking People lived through times of greatEight Winters – led to a profound decision on the part change both physically and culturally. Despite theseof the Walking People. Never again were the young changes, we have argued that they developedto be excluded from any decision, especially not from effective mechanisms for keeping a persistent anda decision which had such a profound impact on their accurate account of what took place, including allpersonal selves. This was, he explained, the bedrock major arguments about decisions taken as well as forof the inalienable rights of the young (children) to changing customs when further information orspeak their own wisdom into ordered council. ‘Let us perspective made such changes wise.choose to be People whose youngest ears are welcome Although obviously today’s technology is quitearound any fire’.” different from what was available during most of the history covered by The Walking People, in this Another example occurs on pages 456-473. The section we argue that many of the mechanisms andlong-time custom of the walking people was to “invite processes developed by the People might be profitablythe very young – for whom walking would prove a applied today. Many of the papers dealing withgreat difficulty – to go with some few and elder persistent conversation concentrate on providingpersons who would with love and compassion, invite additional on-line capabilities; e.g., ways to visualizethis young, never walk person toward that Great Sleep conversations or ways to enhance text with signals toin which we become at last one with Earth.” replace face to face signals that would otherwise beHowever, one mother had such a son (completely missing from on-line environments. The applicableunable to walk), and for various reasons, refused to wisdom from The Walking People is not aboutfollow the custom instead saying that she herselfwould carry her son for as long as she was able and
  7. 7. specific new technological capacities but is about how problems, it is often useful to have at hand as well,to have effective conversations. this more succinct representation --- the Pattern that constitutes the essence of a solution to a recurring4.1. The wisdom in The Walking People forms problem. We would do well in our own moderna kind of socio-technical Pattern Language learning to record both kinds of knowledge. One format that captures both the abstract and the concrete In The Walking People, we find extended is illustrated by A Pattern Language [6]. Here, thedescriptions of specific situations that led to specific architect Christopher Alexander and his colleagueslearning. But along with these specific examples are capture recurring problems and the essence of amore general statements of solution patterns. These solution. A Pattern typically includes a photograph ofare important because when faced with a novel and a concrete instantiation of the Pattern as well as acomplex problem, it is often useful to have a more more abstract rendering in both verbal andcompact notational scheme for representing a diagrammatic terms. Much as the debates in Theproblem. While the original narrative provides a Waking People are summarized in terms of the majorcontext for the solution pattern, the Pattern itself is arguments about possible courses of action, A Patternexpressed succinctly. These Patterns are then often Language also includes for each Pattern a discussionre-used in quite different contexts. For instance, very of the “forces” that push one way and another. Whileearly in the narrative (pp.7-8), the People reflect on A Pattern Language dealt with issues in physicalthe fact that many women with pointed sticks are as architecture, others have applied the same generaleffective as two men, one atop the shoulder of the concept to a variety of domains including object-other, when it comes to ridding caves of unwanted oriented programming [7], the software developmentbears. One more general learning that comes from process [8], human-computer interaction [9], and, ofthis experience is expressed this way: “AND HOW most relevance here, socio-technical interaction [10].MANY MIGHT DO WHAT FEW-ALONE COULDNOT EVEN THOUGH EACH OF THE MANY HAS 4.2. Special Roles in social learningLESS STRENGTH.” Somewhat later (pp.11-12), ateacher of hunters is struggling with how to help the Interestingly, we recognize that star levelyoung learn without peril and considers how nice it performance in language, acting, music, mathematicswould be if the tusked ones and the bears would or sports typically requires extensive early training. It“stand still” for the young learners. He thinks, is no accident, for instance, that Tiger Woods began“WHAT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR ONE MAY BE playing golf when he was two years old or thatPOSSIBLE FOR MANY” thus invoking the general Mozart began intensive musical training early in life.Pattern, but this time using it to make a painting of The Walking People also realized the importance ofpotentially dangerous prey with various kinds of life-long learning when it came to being a keeper ofpigments. Still later (p. 44), this Pattern was applied wisdom. All too often in our society, special rolesmore abstractly with respect to problem solving itself, that might be importance in conversation and problem“IF THERE IS NOT ONE AMONG US WHO solving; e.g., facilitators, judges and mediators areCONTAINS SUFFICIENT WISDOM MANY only explicitly trained for relatively late in life.PEOPLE TOGETHER MAY FIND A CLEARPATH.” Still later (p.65), while puzzling how to 4.3. An ordered councilcross the island arpeggio without being swept away bystorms, they reminded themselves of this Pattern, The Walking People learn early in the narrative“WHAT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR ONE MAY BE the value of an “ordered council.” While somePOSSIBLE FOR MANY” modern commentators (See, e.g., [11]) have also made a strong case for such an ordered council, manyTHINKING OF THIS, typical face to face meetings in our society are They wove ropes anything but. If anything, many on-line environments which were long as well as thick are even worse containing multiple, disorganized and with which those who were struck by threads and often consisting largely of “write-only”Ocean conversations. There have been attempts to introduce and washed from their footing tools to “slow down” and “organize” on-line might be restrained by others conversations to make them more civilized and who were more secure. productive. Of course, the people in a tribe depend upon each other over a long period of time. Any Stories that embody specific examples are breach of etiquette or lack of respect would be clearlymemorable and motivating ways to become engaged associated with a specific individual and wrongfulin learning and to recall. However, for solving behavior would certainly have social consequences.
  8. 8. It is often assumed that the anonymity of many on- that John is from a culture where fifteen minutes isline environments is what leads to anti-social not actually “late.” It might be the case that John wasbehavior. Anonymity (or any other reason for lack of unavoidably detained in traffic. Perhaps John wassocial consequences) may well be a necessary but not waylaid outside the meeting room by the Vicesufficient condition for anti-social behavior. In the President and is, even now, doing his best to extol theearly days of AOL (@1995), for instance, the author virtues of the project. There is some obvious utility toparticipated in many “Native American chat rooms” the application of this rule in specific instances. Lessin which people behaved very respectfully towards obvious, but perhaps even more valuable, over time,each other. For example, it was not uncommon for is the kind of attitude that the habitual application ofone person to “tell a story” (typed two lines at a time) this rule might have on flexibility of thought.for an hour while other users simply “listened”(watched the story unfold on the screen). These long 4.5. Old Versions and Modificationsturns were only characteristic of Native Americanchat rooms, but other chat rooms also exhibited There is a maxim in biology, “Ontogenyrespectful behavior. More recently, unfortunately, recapitulates phylogeny.” Basically, what this meansnearly every public chat room, regardless of topic, is that during the development of an embryo (say,seems to find itself with some small number of people human), there are strong resemblances (not literalwhose sole purpose seems to be disruption and reproductions) to the forms of ancestors. By contrast,disrespect. The “ignore this user” tool helps to some in our own society, it is typically considered a ratherextent, but does not offer a very satisfactory solution. frivolous pastime to bother with recording,There is still an initial disruption and often the same reproducing or recalling previously held but nowindividuals simply re-enter using a different screen discounted views of reality. What is most importantname. It might be possible to devise on-line tools is the “current” wisdom. Or, so we think. In Thecapable of detecting disruptive and anti-social Walking People clearly, the ideal is to record, notbehavior. Another short-term “fix” is that people only the “bottom line” but also to include previousparticipate in “private” chat rooms whose names and views, arguments and counter-arguments. Given thattimes are only given to trusted identities. life has existed for about 10 ** 9 years and oralUnfortunately, this prevents the anti-social individuals cultures for at least 1 ** 6 years and modern writtenfrom observing constructive conversation. A more language only on the order of 1** 4 years, it mightrobust and long-term solution probably requires that make some sense to pay attention to this form ofpeople learn at an early age the value of an ordered preserving knowledge.council. A very contemporary example concerns the use of4.4. The Iroquois “Rule of Six” phages, a promising approach to the treatment of bacterial diseases until the development of modern Given that in many on-line environments, people antibiotics basically superseded this approach. Moremay not always behave appropriately coupled with recently still, many bacteria have evolved antibiotic-the fact that on-line environments do not typically resistant strains and there is a resurgence of interest inprovide the kinds of social disambiguating cues phages [12].present in face to face interactions, theseenvironments may be particularly appropriate for theapplication of the Iroquois “Rule of Six.” [4]. Thisheuristic suggests that in any complex social situation,when one is tempted to conclude a specific set ofcircumstances is responsible for someone’s behavior,before acting, one should also generate an additionalfive set of circumstances that may have led to thesame observable behavior. For instance, imagine thatyou are waiting in a meeting room and your calendarsays that the meeting is to start at 10 am. The clockon the wall reads 10:15 am. John is not here. Yournatural inclination is to conclude that John does notcare about the project. Using the Iroquois “Rule ofSix” you might generate various alternativeexplanations. It might be the case that you have anerroneous calendar entry. It might be the case that theclock on the wall is incorrect. It might be the case
  9. 9. 4.6. Who speaks for Wolf? effectively over time and space so that historical accuracy is preserved and yet increasing wisdom is Another potentially useful Pattern comes from found.another Iroquois learning story, “Who Speaks forWolf?” [13] According to the story, the tribe includeda man whose life work was to study wolves; so much 6. Referencesso, that the tribe renamed him “Wolf.” Once, whileWolf and other warriors were out on a long hunting [1] Thomas, J. Narrative technology and the newexpedition, the Tribe determined that they were using millennium. (1999). Knowledge Management Journal,up too many resources in the immediate vicinity and 2(9), 14-17.needed to move. Scouts were sent to find the mostappropriate place for relocation. Finally, after much [2] Kemeny, J. G., Snell, J. L. and Thompson, G. L. (1957),debate, a location was chosen and the tribe moved. In Introduction to finite mathematics. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:the spring, they found out that they had moved into Prentice-Hall.the Spring breeding ground of the wolves and thewolves were threatening the children and stealing the [3] Underwood, P. (1993). The Walking People: A Nativedrying meat. So now another council was held to American Oral History. San Anselmo, CA: Tribe of Twodetermine whether they should move again, or kill the Press.wolves or post guards at all times. Finally, theydecided to move again. However, they also asked [4] Underwood, P. (1994). Three Strands in the Braid: Athemselves, “What did we learn from this? How Guide for Enablers of Learning. San Anselmo, CA: Tribecould we make sure not to make another such error in of Two Press.the future?” Someone said, “If Wolf had been at our [5] McKee, Robert (1997). Story, New York: Harper &first council, he would have known and warned us Row.from moving here.” Another suggested thathenceforward, if anyone were missing from theordered council, someone should say, “Who speaks [6] Alexander, C. A., Ishikawa, S., Silverstein, M.,for Wolf?” to remind them of those whose opinions, Jacobson, M. Fiksdahl-King, I., and Angel, S. (1977). Ainterests and perspectives were not represented. If Pattern Language. New York: Oxford Press.time permitted and none were present who believedthey could offer such a view, then it may be wiser to [7] Gamma, E., Helm, R., Johnson, R., and Vlissides,delay decision. J. Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object Of course, in the case of the People, it was fairly Oriented Software. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley,obvious when someone was not present. In modern 1995.life, it is not always so obvious whether there aremissing stakeholders and who they might be. In [14], [8] Coplien, J. O. & Harrison, N. B. (2004)suggestions are made as to how to apply this ancient Organizational patterns of agile softwarewisdom in modern settings. development. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.5. Conclusions [9] Borchers, J. (2001). A pattern approach to interaction design. West Suxxes, UK: Wiley & Sons, Clearly, there are many useful technological Ltd.approaches to enhancing on-line conversations [10] Schummer, T. (2004) Patterns for buildingincluding providing information about participants communities in collaborative systems. EuroPlop2004, Julyand their actions [15], using user tagging and search 7-11, Kloster Irsee, Germany.[16], providing explicit signaling of rhetorical intent[17], adding structuring mechanisms and ancillary [11] Bohm, D. (1996). On dialogue. London:information [18], providing visualizations of Routledge.conversation [19] and providing tools to help withstorytelling [20]. All of these provide the possibility [12] Reidel, G. W. (2005). Alternatives: Phage Therapy:to enrich and enhance on-line conversations. In this Rediscovering a treatment for superbug infections. Epochpaper, we have taken an alternative approach; viz., to Times, May 31.search for insight in what may seem to be an a prioriunlikely source, The Walking People. Upon [13] Underwood, Paula. (1983). Who speaks for Wolf: Areflection, it seems that there is wisdom in this oral Native American Learning Story. Georgetown TX (now Sanhistory about how to carry on a conversation Anselmo, CA): A Tribe of Two Press.
  10. 10. [14] Thomas, J. C., Danis, C. & Lee, A. (2002) Who [19] Viegas, F. B., Wattenberg, M. & Dave, K. (2004).Speaks for Wolf? IBM Research Report RC22644, IBM Studying cooperation and conflict between authors withResearch Division, Yorktown Heights, NY. history flow visualizations. Proceedings of CHI 2004, 575-582. New York: ACM.[15] Erickson, T. & Kellogg, W. A. "Social Translucence:An Approach to Designing Systems that Mesh with Social [20] Thomas, J., Kellogg, W.A. & Erickson, T. A. (2001).Processes." In Transactions on Computer-Human The knowledge management puzzle: human and socialInteraction. Vol. 7, No. 1, pp 59-83. New York: ACM factors in knowledge management. IBM Systems Journal,Press, 2000. 40(4), 863- 884.[16] Grudin, J. (2006). Enterprise knowledge managementand emerging technologies. Proceedings of the 39 th HawaiiInternational Conference on System Sciences.[17] Vilhjalmsson, H. H. Augmenting online conversationthrough automated discourse tagging. (2005). Proceedingsof the 38th Hawaii International Conference on SystemSciences.[18] Siegel, M. A., Ellis, S. E., & Lewis, M. B. (2004).Designing for deep conversation in a scenarios-based e-Learning environment. Proceedings of the 37th HawaiiInternational Conference on System Sciences.