8900: Interface in flux
Posted by rogerxaustin
I feel silly saying this so bluntly, but 2004 was a long time ago. So was early/mid 2003, which is probably the rough timeframe Wysocki and Jasken set about writing “What should be an unforgettable face …” for its March 2004 publication.
Let’s round this out to an even nine years ago and snapshot the changes between Fall 2003 and Fall 2012: Windows XP hadn’t reached its dominating saturation point yet, so most users were operating in Windows 98 or 2000. Apple Mac OSX was still a puny minority of usership that had no impact on the greater interface landscape. The iPod was not yet the ubiquitous music serving device, having begun only its third generation. Facebook and MySpace were still nascent. The first iPhone and the waves of similar smartphones were still four years from launch. The dominant social writing venue was still LiveJournal. Public wireless access was still mostly offered only to large university communities.
These and many other interfaces stand between us now and us then. At the time “Unforgettable face” was written, the dominant interfaces of software still played largely by the Microsoft Windows rules; the vast majority of all computing tasks, writing included, happened in Windows environment. Thus, interface advanced only as much as this massive software landscape allowed it. There were the alternatives of Linux and Mac out there, but at that time they served niche users, so virtually all writing applications for Windows had the same over aesthetic.
Admittedly, the growing Mac usership hasn’t really challenged the Microsoft model. In both environments, we still have a row of menus to choose from, and within each the same basic types of functions can be expected to be in the same basic space: the File menu still features saving, opening, and printing; we still have the same icons for basic functions at the top of the screen; our text still appears on a simulated page surface; we still utilize the same conventions of formatting our text – although that may have more to do with the persistence of the academy’s expectations than the software.
What has challenged the model is the explosion of touch screen environments. When opened up to the processing power of these small, inexpensive little computers, app developers have shown enormous creativity in recreating interfaces over and over again. Swiping, taping, pinching, and dragging offers ways to interact with our writing spaces that desktops and laptops still don’t replicate. This has perhaps restored the personal quality of writing that the authors say is missing from computer-based composition. Especially on the larger devices such as the iPad, document drafting, management, and customization has gained depth and immediacy.
I won’t deny that this same omnipresent communications technology doesn’t lead to greater distraction (although at least in cases of Facebook and Twitter, we are distracted from our writing with more writing), but surely the benefits come out ahead. If we continue to expand interfaces to more closely approach invisibility (remember that Google Glass is on the horizon), perhaps we will retake all of the immediacy of tangible composition and enhance it with the flexibility and creativity enabled by the technology we’ve come to appreciate these past nine years.