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  Objects and Identity

Object Frameworks

Here I'm going to continue a thought from the essay Memes on the Internet, concerning a verse that has been circulating and mutating on the internet.

The most interesting thing, for me, is that because of the gradual development and multiple authors, the verse doesn't fit into the framework of works and actors that I like to use. That framework works pretty well for books and movies and so on, because our current methods of producing physical objects encourage the production of lots of copies of a single version at a fairly well-defined time, but it doesn't work so well for, say, memes propagating on the internet.

The persistent object framework is more robust, capable of representing multiple authors and multiple versions that branch and merge, and is sufficient in this case, but it's still potentially too weak. As an example, I'll inflict on you a little adaptation of my own, one that came to me when I realized that those two lines from Oingo Boingo's Just Another Day just fit right in, and made the song sound like it was about one of the Taken, or one of the Fallen Lords.

The Wanderer

Oh, I'm the type of guy
   who likes to roam around.
I'm never in one place,
   I roam from town to town.
And when I take my leave
   for the open road ahead,
There's clouds of yellow smoke,
   and everyone is dead.
They call me the Wanderer,
   oh yeah, the Wanderer,
I roam around around around around.

Where does that fit into the great scheme of things? It's an adaptation of one song, or object, but contains part of another, and is only funny to me because it ties into yet other works. See the problem? The weakness of the persistent object framework is that it isn't designed for thinking about the merging of previously distinct objects. We could tack on the idea as an afterthought, but I think it would be best to come up with a whole new framework, perhaps one that's designed to describe composite objects.

The above is also an example of juxtaposition, by the way.

Actually, now that I think about it, the persistent object framework, which I acquired mainly through exposure to version control systems, is terrible at representing how files change. Suppose I have a file, perhaps a file of source code, and I make changes to it, creating a new version. As likely as not, the changes were produced by copying and modifying part of another file, but as far as the version control system is concerned, they might as well have coalesced out of the ether.

I imagine a composite object framework could capture such information. If you didn't mind the overhead, and had a good interface for pruning intermediate versions at a later time, you could integrate composite object version control into a text editor, and have it track the movement of individual fragments of text within and between files.

Sounds pretty neat, doesn't it? I should warn you, though I've seen the logical conclusion of this train of thought, and it is a bit pathological. For example, if I want to change abc to cab, I sometimes imagine that there's a difference between cutting and pasting the c and deleting and retyping it. After all, in one case it's the same c, in the other it's not! As a result, I'm sometimes caught between the desire to produce the final text as expediently as possible and the desire to create the correct semantics of change, which often requires retyping from scratch.

Another point worth pondering is the fact that even freshly typed text doesn't just coalesce out of the ether, it is derived from things you've seen and learned in the past. It would be quite a version control system that could track that!

Finally, I have one more thought about the persistent object framework, or, rather, one more example of its weakness. I think it would be funny to, say, embed a TV remote in a potato and say that the result is art because it violates the concept of object identity. Wouldn't that be just like modern art?

 

  See Also

  Conclusion (Objects and Identity)
  Machine Language
  Memes on the Internet
  On Rain
  Physical Objects

@ February (2002)