In the pursuit of meaning

(warning: philosophical nerdiness)
It is funny how one can keep encountering strange, weird words such as ‘ontology’ – which means something like ‘the study of what there is’ – but the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains that this is just a first approximation. Anyway, I stumbled long ago on this word while studying philosophy. Ontology is part of metaphysics, which is another weird word.

This is how Wikipedia tries to bring it all together:

Ontology (from onto-, from the Greek ὤν, ὄντος “being; that which is”, present participle of the verb εἰμί, eimi “be”, and -λογία, -logia: “science, study, theory”) is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence, or reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations. Traditionally listed as a part of the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics, ontology deals with questions concerning what entities exist or can be said to exist, and how such entities can be grouped, related within a hierarchy, and subdivided according to similarities and differences.

Only many years later I realized ‘ontology’ is also used in information science. Ontologies in that context are structural frameworks for organizing information and are used in artificial intelligence, the Semantic Web, systems engineering, software engineering, biomedical informatics, library science, enterprise bookmarking, and information architecture as a form of knowledge representation about the world or some part of it. The creation of domain ontologies is also fundamental to the definition and use of an enterprise architecture framework. (Wikipedia)

Now I encountered the word ‘ontology’ in the About section of a company site of two co-learners of mine at the Howard Rheingold courses and projects.

Their company is called Ontologique – The Ontology Boutique. This is how their About section starts:

Ontologique is the collaborative brainchild of Joe Raimondo and his co-venturer in the wilds of the semantically aware web, Doug Breitbart. Our firm is dedicated to pursuit of an array of shared passions and convictions about technology in service to enhancement of meaning, understanding, knowledge and improvement of human productivity and the human condition, rather than the other way around.

In this context they do stuff for large companies but also for new or early phase or turnaround ventures that find themselves at the convergence of Web3.0, social media, gaming and game theory.

One might be inclined to consider all this consultant mumble jumble but I’m convinced that, in this case, it is not. Joe and Doug are intensely involved in this pursuit of meaning and clarification of meaning. More of us should be – this was one of the big messages of LeWeb 2012 where people such as cyber anthropologist Amber Case talked about converting big data, real time streams and mobile technology into stuff which actually is meaningful. Going back to my philosophical roots, I’d say that enhancing meaning helps us attaining eudaimonia – the Aristotelian notion which means not so much happiness but rather’human flourishing’.

These last few days I’ve been experimenting with Siri, Google Now and a number of similar services and apps. I’m more and more convinced that the next phase of the mobile revolution will be about meaning. How do we design smartphones, tablets and whatever other wearable devices in such a way that they can function as elegant organisms, rather than as a bunch of disconnected, shallow and addictive applications. How can we organize these services in such a way that they convey something meaningful? That’s the challenge for the designers, dreamers and techno-philosophers of this day and age.

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About rolandlegrand

I'm a digital newsroom manager at Mediafin, the publisher of Belgium's leading business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. I have a special interest in the intersection of immersive media, business and philosophy.
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