Category Archives: Section II

The Desktop Interface and Teleaction

The way we choose to organize our world dictates our own place within it—in Gothic times the cathedral, for example, stood at the center of town, inherently helping us perceive what was important, where we stood in relation to it, and how we should and could interact with the rest of the space surrounding it.

The first generation of interface designers had to decide, then, how to organize the computer space. They had, essentially, an entire world at their fingertips, which they could mold and design and organize in any way possible—the space could look like anything. It was important, however, especially given he limitations of technology of the time, that the space was easy to represent.

In this week’s reading of Interface Culture, Johnson takes us through the creation and evolution of the desktop from its early stages to the interface we know today. Throughout his discussion in this chapter, he emphasizes consistently the idea of the “desktop metaphor.” Similar to the metaphor we discussed last class, it encompasses the way in which reality is represented and even simulated on the desktop interface and how those representations help us to understand the way we use and navigate it. Continue reading


            Teleaction, according to Manovich, is a very different operation. This because it is a complicated operation used to access new media, representing a shift from representation to conceptual space with telecommunication.  Manovich argues that real-time communication technologies (telegraph, telephone, television, telepresence, etc.) became subsidiary to technologies of representation (film, digital storage, etc) because of a shift in aesthetic. He relates this to definitions by Roland Barthes and Nelson Goodman deeming only finite objects as “texts” that can be “read.” But doesn’t the Internet and the increase use other real-time communication change all of this?

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The Mother of All Demos

On December 9th, 1968 Douglas Engelbart gave a 90 minute live public demonstration at the Fall Joint Computer Conference at the Convention center in San Francisco. There they showed off many innovations including the public debut of the computer mouse. However the mouse was only one of many innovations demonstrated that day, including hypertext, object addressing and dynamic file linking, as well as shared-screen collaboration involving two persons at different sites communicating over a network with audio and video interface. This demonstration later became known as the “The Mother of All of Demos” because many of the innovations have become commonplace even today such as the mouse.

Doug Engelbart and his 17 researchers in the Augmentation Research Center at Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, CA were working on what they showed since 1962. Engelbart began the presentation by mentioning how valuable it would be if a workstation at your disposal all day that was perfectly…responsive” meaning he’s trying to find out how computers can make humans smarter. Now we know the value of what Engelbart said because everyone assumes you know how to at least work a computer mouse. The goal of the demo was to show what they were working on can do rather than explain it. Engelbart does word processing with a “blank piece of paper” and types in words, shows cut, copy, and paste. Also he shows how the many different levels and views a file can be given. While doing this a mouse is being used in the same manner we use the mouse today. These elements are extremely commonplace today.

“The Mother of All Demos” gave public the first glimpse of what Steven Johnson calls information-space. Information-space is the set of concepts and relations among them held by an information system. Also the demo gave Doug Engelbart the reputation of being the father of the modern interface. Steven Johnson says interface in its simplest terms “refers to software that shapes the interaction between user and computer (14). The relationship between the two is a semantic one. The interface is like a translator between the two entities making one easier to understand for the other. This is only capable in the digital revolution and for the “magic digital revolution to take place a computer must represent itself to the user; in a language that the user understands” (14) and I think Doug Engelbart was able to accomplish this.

This representation the computer does to the user takes its form metaphorically. The string of zeros and ones that most people cannot understand are replaced by a metaphor of a virtual folder on a virtual desktop. These metaphors are “the core idiom of the contemporary graphic interface” (15). The importance of interface design revolves around the paradox that “we live in a society that is increasingly shaped by events in cyberspace, and yet cyberspace remains, for all practical purposes, invisible outside our perceptual grasp” (19). I think Doug Engelbart was able to help people grasp cyberspace by what he showed at “The Mother of All Demos”.

Stream of Engelbart’s demo

Navigating Virtual Cities

The Greek poet Simonides was famous for building memory-places: stories turned into architecture, the original information spaces. Doug Engelbart expanded upon this idea of information-space and brought us the interface: a translator of the zeros and ones of computer language into the words, concepts, images, and associations of human language. Interface maps the virtual cities of the 21st century.

Virtual City

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Ted Nelson, Hypertext and the Web


The Ted Nelson GoogleTech Talk presentation was delivered on January 29, 2007.  Nelson began his career in the computer world in the early 1960s; an era where the term hypertext or the concept of the World Wide Web was only a figment of ones imagination.  Known as the man who “coined” the term hypertext, Nelson attempted to create a set of constructs for a new world of personal computing and a world of electronic documentation.  Hypertext is defined as “machine-readable text that is not sequential but is organized so that related items of information are connected” ( However, Nelson thinks the world of such personal computing constructs has gone all wrong.  In his introduction, Nelson states “The clearer your vision, the harder it is for you to explain.” He believes he is part of an elite group of “old-timers” or the original men who believe that they have a problem– that nobody sees their original vision.

However, certain misunderstanding have occurred in the present world that have skewed these old-timer’s visions regarding their original ideas for just how personal computing would take shape (back in 1960) and the trajectory it would follow in order to be the most efficient and productive system possible.  In his presentation, Nelson addresses the issue of how we can best fix electronic literature, what the original vision for hypertext was and how he personally is envisioning a way to best redesign the “current copyright fights” through selective quotation ownership that “liberates and benefits everyone.”

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Where’s the Bug?

Jodi is a collaborative creation by two net artists, Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans. Together, they have created original artwork via the Internet, using software art and computer game modifications as their main medium.

As predicted, Jodi faces  many questions and panicked responses from viewers of their Can it be sold? Is it political? But most importantly (at least for me) is the question, what is this “”? The interview addresses these questions.

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The Power of Words

The function of hypertext

The function of hypertext

We’ve been talking in class about the progression of media and how society has taken technologies from the past and, not only, built upon them but applied them to needs of today.  Steven Johnson’s discussion of hypertext does exactly this.  What is the function of hypertext?  Johnson connects the ideas about a machine conceived by an engineer, Vannevar Bush, in 1945 to links on the Web.  He argues that links have become a form of punctuation but have the potential to completely transform storytelling, or, more generally, how people relate to information.
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Links: Even Grandma Gets It

When one considers the effect that modern technology has had upon scientific and social progression, it is nearly impossible to imagine our culture in the days of non-existent or even old technology.  As the flow of knowledge becomes greater and greater each day, the expectations of technology grow exponentially as well.  Everyday, a new technology, scientific breakthrough, artistic creation or even something as minor as a new interest posted on my Facebook page all become part of the information highway.  The Internet has allowed this constant knowledge flow to be recorded and stored in the World Wide Web, however, it is fundamentally incorrect to assume that the abilities of new media have completely surpassed and replaced old media.  Important minds in the scientific and technological fields have examined the ways in which some new media (i.e., the Internet) have appropriated and integrated old media models.  This paper will examine the works of Steven Johnson and Dr. Vannevar Bush, and the ways in which both men understand new media and the evolutionary processes that occur from old to new media.

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