Development and asynchronicity

October 7, 2010 at 10:23 am | In ideas, just_so | 2 Comments

The other day, we had an interesting conversation around the dinner table about development and asynchronicity.

Asynchronicity is a familiar idea around here, because, as homeschoolers of asynchronous kids, we learned a decade ago (and had to address the fact) that development happens on several levels and usually not in lockstep. The intellectual, physical, and emotional development of the asynchronous child is never as nicely meshed as the child-rearing and pedagogical literature would have you believe.

It struck us, at dinner two nights ago, that the same could be said of countries or any other organized system of knowledge, information, or development. But when we think of countries, we tend to judge them according to some “synchronous” view of where they should be at. Maybe that’s not so smart.

Why, for example, should countries without a developed road or rail infrastructure work toward developing an automotive or rail infrastructure? Why not use horses? That was the “crazy” idea that sparked our thinking over dinner. My first thought was, “Horses? You must be kidding.” But as we explored the idea (and substitute asses or camels for horses, as the case may be), it made more sense. Just because civil engineering brought mega-projects like interstate highway systems to some countries, does that mean we have to assume that all countries need the same civil engineering feats to develop and prosper? Could asynchronous development help regions or countries leapfrog over some of those developments? It’s possible to have a modern extended network of cell phone communication  alongside an “old-fashioned” technology of transport by animals.

Asynchronicity is something that educators of gifted kids understand, and it’s also used to describe types of information exchanges that have arisen from internet-based information exchange. Asynchronous messaging is:

Fire-and-forget information exchange. Participants in an asynchronous messaging system don’t have to wait for a response from the recipient, because they can rely on the messaging infrastructure to ensure delivery. This is a vital ingredient in loosely coupled systems such as web services, because it allows participants to communicate reliably even if one of the parties is temporarily offline, busy, or unobtainable. Asynchronous messaging systems are also vastly more scalable than those that rely on direct connections, such as remote procedure calls (RPCs). [emphasis added] (source)

I like thinking about these aspects in juxtaposition. Synchronous development is great when it works, but harmful if it’s an expectation that becomes a straitjacket. Having seen first-hand how liberating the acceptance and embrace of asynchronous development is for developing children, I’m intrigued by how favoring asynchronicity on a larger scale could liberate creative and developmental energies in other systems (like countries).

As it happens, I came across Blackboards Everywhere: Atemporality And The Idea Of The Future yesterday, which referred to an Oct. 5 piece by Russell Davies, something something something. The beef? According to Davies’s post, we’re failing to imagine the future. Instead, we’re focused on retro or stuck in the present, with no clear vision of what the future should look like:

I sometimes think all this talk of atemporality is an abdication of sci-fi responsibility. SF writers seem very keen to deny that they’re writing about the future. They’re not doing prediction, they’re telling us about the now. OK. Well. Pack it in and get on with some prediction.

Anyway. It’s not just sci-fi. I’m also depressed about the lack of future in fashion. Every hep shop seems to be full of tweeds and leather and carefully authentic bits of restrained artisinal fashion. I think most of Shoreditch would be wondering around in a leather apron if it could. With pipe and beard and rickets. Every new coffee shop and organic foodery seems to be the same. Wood, brushed metal, bits of knackered toys on shelves. And blackboards. Everywhere there’s blackboards. (source)

Well, maybe we’re going through the throes of rethinking synchronous development. It has to be easier to imagine the future if there’s a blueprint (synchronous development) that lets some sort of whole Gestalt emerge, right? And if that slowly wears away – in favor of bits of asynchronicity emerging successfully (or not) – it gets harder to predict the future. Maybe that explains why we’re more easily enthralled by retro visions (and I think Steampunk actually gets some things right, although on the whole I’m not a fan of it, and I don’t get it at all when it becomes some kind of fetish).

Added bonus, since Davies mentions fashion: Watch this fascinating TEDx talk by Johanna Blakley, Lessons from fashion’s free culture, wherein Blakley explains how “copyright law’s grip on film, music and software barely touches the fashion industry … and fashion benefits in both innovation and sales,” and “what all creative industries can learn from fashion’s free culture.” Looks like fashion is a sort of “loosely coupled system.” Something to keep an eye on.


  1. Yule – your posts always make me think about things in new ways. I always find them fascinating. This one’s no exception. Thank you!

    Comment by Tori — October 7, 2010 #

  2. Thank-you, Tori – your comment made my day! 🙂

    Comment by Yule — October 7, 2010 #

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