Interfaces: What Make Interactions Possible

It’s surprising to see the “new media” functions/concepts had been proposed long before we thought it would be. The concept of interactive interfaces, hyperlinks, etc.

Manovich’s definition of new media is that new media can not only simulate old media, but also opens for future design possibilities, done by both technical and non-technical people. So the new media can be understood as platforms of platforms. It’s dynamic and creative. Manovich discusses several historical technology conceptual model to explain what makes “new media” possible, DynaBook and Hypertext.

The overlapping of Manovich and Alan Kay’s idea lays in their use of the term “interface”. Although most of the time when we say interface, we refers to the surface, visible design principles. However, Manovich and Kay use the term interfaces as the underlying principles that makes technological designs possible. Just like Alan Kay says in the video, “If you want people to go along with you, you have to involve with the same conspiracy. And user interface is a conspiracy that I hope people get interested in.” Also Kay’s words, “the music is not the piano” reveal his idea that by only looking at hardware and software itself cannot fully explain the technology’s ability of augmenting human intelligence, it is how hardware and software open the possibility for people to use/create new functions. There are many examples in our current age that how technology opens up possibilities to new functions— many apps in iTunes store are developed by individuals instead of institutions. Also the website mentioned by Kay, Etoy, where child can program on their own.

  • Describe the conceptual, technical, and design steps that enabled computers and computation to be used for information access and processing with any kind of medium by ordinary, nontechnical users.

This topic in the syllabus and the concept of hypertext remind me of the experience that I had in a used bookstore. We are using the concept of hypertext everyday: looking for certain information we need by Google search or just by  “ctrl+F”. The conceptual model of hypertext is revolutionary. It allows us to get access to information in a random order and augment our ability of information processing. The experiences that I had in that bookstore was that because the trade used books with customers, a customer can trade his/her books with their store credits. The way they keep record of customers’ credits information is by writing on a paperback card. What happened the day when I went to the store with my friend was that they cannot find the piece of paper that writes my friend’s credits. The woman spread all the cards on the table and try to find it by my friend’s last name. Unfortunately the order of cards was messed up and not in alphabetical order. When I was watching at their way of searching information, I see the importance of using a digital spreadsheet. The conceptual model that Word Excel (or other spreadsheets) is to enable people to record correlated information. In this case, it is the credits information correlates with each customers. Also there is not so many technical barriers for ordinary nontechnical people to use Word Excel (except some functions need more programming).

Take one step back, our computers, phones, tablets, or other technologies have so many softwares like this. Users of those technologies are mostly nontechnical people. The accessible interfaces make it possible for them to interact with machine and other users. However, problems still exist. Alan Kay said, for all media, the original intent was symmetric authorizing and consuming, ““Apple with the iPad and iPhone goes even further and does not allow children to download an Etoy made by another child somewhere in the world. This could not be farther from the original intentions of the entire ARPA-IPTO/PARC community in the ’60s and ’70s.” From my perspective, copyright problems are smothering creativities. One of the most prominent examples that I can think of are “patent trolls” referring to the phenomenon that some companies make money by suing start-up technology companies. They can destroy a small start-up company overnight. When I read this week’s article, I couldn’t help contracting the ideal image of “new media” and its great potential (this optimistic feeling mostly comes from Manovich) and the reality (I wish I am not pessimistic by thinking this way.) No matter thinking optimistically or not, re-center the idea of interface as what makes interaction possible is useful. Hypertexts, DynaBooks are all conceptual models proposed way before the invention of real physical technologies that implementing those concepts. And remember, those concepts were not new but highly intuitive.