Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dashboards and Escutcheons

More on Escutcheons for the Individual

Families and other institutions often connect themselves with medieval tradition by adopting a coat of arms, also called an escutcheon. This sometimes includes a Greek or Latin saying along with a set of symbolic images in the visual language of heraldry. In his posthumous work, "Panorthosia or Universal Reform," John Amos Comenius proposed that a world government take up certain mottos or slogans to place on the escutcheon of groups at each major level of society, from the individual to family, school, faith groups and, at the most universal level, the world government itself. Enhanced by sophisticated information technology, this device would make the goals and ideals of a cosmopolitan order more friendly, coherent and understandable.

For better or worse, the upcoming generation of children born after the advent of the internet are virtually all gamers. Electronic games are so compelling and even addictive for them because game designers long ago learned how to make what is little more than a display, a database and a data feedback mechanism appealing to young children. As an educational theorist, Comenius understood this psychology well. In his over 150 book oeuvre he often suggested ways that educators can make learning as natural and enjoyable as play. The mottos that he devised for families and governments in Panorthosia demonstrate that he understood how important this can be for governance as well as education.
Like a computer game or simulation, an escutcheon is nothing more than a display, a database and a set of feedback mechanisms. Unlike the augmented reality "dashboard displays" that we have discussed elsewhere, an escutcheon is permanent, official and relatively static. The escutcheon is a tally of the results of many lessons, games and simulations, both formal and informal. Like the list of top ten scorers in a computer game, it is essentially a record of goals accomplished and an emblem of the ideals, virtues and honours that one aims for in life.

An inherent part of the world curriculum, they begin in early childhood, starting with standard peer and parental assessments and report cards from teachers. However, with maturity they gradually become autonomous, self-regulated measures of virtue and self-education. They are the summary of a life displayed in as artistic a way as possible. Indeed as escutcheons are applied universally, they will create an entire industry for artists, graphic designers and illustrators.

An escutcheon has both a public and a private face. For an individual, the private face is a visualization designed to aid in reflection and meditation. It also acts as a memory aid and tool for the critical self-assessment that is essential to an examined life. The public face of an escutcheon shows to clients and employers qualifications and accomplishments gained in one's line of work.

The Difference between Escutcheons and Dashboard Displays

Whereas the dashboard display monitors dynamic lifestyle factors like diet and exercise, the escutcheon considers goals and accomplishments in relation to long-term measures of peace, health and well being.

For example, in personal finance a dashboard display features dials and graphs showing one's financial state designed to aid in budgeting and financial planning. If an investment portfolio is diversified, a display of a human face or figure takes on pleasing proportions. If it is less diverse or over-invests in a single industry, the figure loses symmetry or tilts to one side. Similarly, if spending is too munificent, income insufficient, savings too small or charitable giving not at recommended amounts, the figure might become too squat or tall, too thick or thin.

An escutcheon, on the other hand, takes a longer perspective of financial health. If a dashboard figure remains symmetrical and beautiful over a long enough period of time it begins to feed points, "energy" or "virtual money" into the escutcheon, depending on the type of game the user prefers to play. These, in turn, furnish colours and embellishments that artists can use in making up a beautiful escutcheon.


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