Tag Archives: Interface

‘The L(o)ng Revolution’ and ‘Scroogled’


In 1974 Raymond Williams wrote an essay about the impact of television on society, “Television: Technology and Cultural Form.” In it, he expressed concern that while television had the ability to offer “extreme social choices” and could potentially lead to a “more educated and participatory democracy,” it also has the ability to further limit and regionalize the way we think and interact with one another to the few choices offered to us by large corporations and institutions.

In today’s reading, “The Lo(n)g Revolution: the Blogosphere as an alternative Public Sphere?”, Anna Notaro begins with this excerpt from Williams’ article in order to put her own into context. While Williams’ assertions are seemingly out-of-date, they can be reapplied to the technology of today, which is the Internet. Her goal for this essay is to explore the political implications of the Internet and she wonders whether the Internet will remain a delimited public arena in which intellectual exchange freely flows between ordinary people, or become highly monitored and limited by potentially anti-democratic values. She concentrates on the “blogosphere” in particular (a term coined by William Quick in 2001 to refer to the “intellectual cyperspace” that bloggers inhabit), and its role in relation to “the intersection between technological change and a reformulation of the public sphere.” Continue reading


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

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 http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8734787622017763097&q=engelbart#

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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