My Daughter’s Storybook, and What Griefs Came of It.

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My daughter came up to me with a book. It’s one of those “books” with four pages, entirely fabricated from impact rated cardboard and primary color paint. Within is depicted a house (Along with what seems to be a completely random assortment of other objects. A dog, a tire, a pond, what is this? It should be titled “A Child’s Guide to Pastoral Free Association”… But I digress.) with a front door, a couple windows, a roof. Common fare.

But it is not common to her. To her, this house is a place of infinite mystery. She is forever asking me, pleading in her miniature language, “Go in there?” “In house?” “Open it?” Now, perhaps she is only asking for attention. Perhaps she is merely inquiring as to who lives there. It is, perhaps, her way of asking me to read to her (the words are as sparse as the illustrations. How do we come to be in possession of these artifacts?). But my mind can not help but see through her words to her curiosity about this fictional house.

And I am unable to offer her any answers.

Oh, certainly, I know something about houses, and what might be within. I could make something up, but it would be a work of my own artifice. I would be writing my own book at that point (which would be much better than… but I digress once more) and not really answering her question. The answer is, of course, that I know nothing about the house in the book. It is entirely (intentionally?) devoid of context, contents, and conversational value.

Have you read The Diamond Age? If so, you can skip the rest of this paragraph. In the book, there is another book (…I heard you like reading…) which is really an AI designed to teach children. It is packed with lessons in the form of games and adventures. By way of this magic tome (made by a father for his little girl) one of the main characters learns, lives, and grows into a woman capable of doing all that she must, and more. It is a powerful image of the potency of the instruction, care, and inheritance of wisdom that parents offer to their children. But more than that, it is an almost literal (see what I did there?) representation of one of the things I most want out of Fledgeling.

If this cardboard book were instead “written” in Fledgeling, I could quite easily open up and enter that cartoon house, and it would have rooms, and inhabitants, and history, and location, and other houses with other stories… Fledgeling would be able to, from that one word “house” derive a great host of interesting connections. It would remember the house, and each time I was asked that vexing question (posed in so many different forms) that now I must answer with “the author did not see fit to include any details about anything other than the most abstract possible representation” (in so many different forms) I could instead simply say “Let’s see!” and explore it with her.

I want Fledgeling to exist. I want it so badly it makes me sick sometimes. I can see the value of the tool, the great potential as a natural learning environment, the massive promise. There is so much wasted effort, repeated labor, and striving to elaborate that, with the proper platform, would entirely evaporate into irrelevance. Just as computerized spreadsheets revolutionized the accountant’s job, and nearly all for the better. Just as computerized communication revolutionized mail. So too will Fledgeling (in whatever guise, and under whatever name it eventually appears) revolutionize both games and storytelling.

I can hardly wait!

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