Authored environments are significantly colored by authors’ motivations

Activities in an authored environment might have their own ostensible goals, but authors’ own motivations will infect and color those purposes. When authors’, participants’, and activities’ objectives are aligned, authors can create powerful environments; when they’re misaligned, the environments won’t cohere.

In non-fiction, for instance, there might be some examples intended to motivate a topic and build readers’ excitement for its implications. If the book’s author is writing because he’s brimming over with enthusiasm for a subject and feels compelled to share it, that’ll elevate the examples’ prose. By contrast, a disinterested textbook author, writing out of obligation, will subvert the purpose of prose meant to convey enthusiasm.

Haskell claims to be a production-ready, enterprise-strength programming language, just like Python. It’s not missing any obvious features for “real world” programming. But the language’s developers are primarily motivated by its theoretical properties, and that purpose shows through subtly in all the seams. Despite efforts to the contrary, Haskell is primarily an Enabling environment for researchers to think more effectively about that branch of programming language theory; it’s not an especially effective enabling environment for people to build software. Smalltalk is a similar story.

Spore markets itself as an action/adventure game in which you can create your own lifeforms then conquer the galaxy. But as far as I can tell, its creators were primarily motivated by mechanisms of simulation and procedural generation. Those pieces of the game are fleshed out and are fascinating, but the “main” gameplay feels like an afterthought.

Michael Nielsen points out that the Apollo program was about getting to space above anything else (see also Powerful enabling environments usually arise as a byproduct of projects pursuing their own intrinsically meaningful purposes). It was also an authored environment: its managers designed processes and an atmosphere to bring about that aspiration. Surely there was also bureaucracy: was it made less obstructive through the goal of getting to space?


Email with Michael Nielsen, 2019/08/23. Re: Transcending the Primer
Email with Michael Nielsen, 2019/09/02. Re: ❲FYI❳ Some notes on enabling environments / anti-educationalism
Maxis Emeryville. (2008). Spore.

Last updated 2023-07-13.