Tag Archives: Steven Johnson

‘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 While Williams’ assertions are seemingly out-of-date, they can be reapplied to the technology of today, which is the Internet.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#

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.
Continue reading

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.

Continue reading