The Interface Is Everything

14 08 2008

The writer Will Self went back to using a manual typewriter several years ago and was quoted saying “I think the computer user does their thinking on the screen, and the non-computer user is compelled, because he or she has to retype a whole text, to do a lot more thinking in the head.” This comment got me to contemplate how future generations will reflect on our so-called “cutting edge” technology of the keyboard, laptop and mouse, and even things like this blog. Will the communications tools that we’re using seem as obsolete as charcoal on a cave wall?

From the rock slab to the scroll, the quill, the printing press, the ballpoint pen, the paper, the e-Book and beyond, the methods of capturing thoughts has been constantly evolving. And as the technologies have evolved, so has our manner of thinking and communicating. Is texting shorthand (LOL, BRB) on a cell phone an evolution of our written language or a giant linguistic leap backward? As Will Self suggests, are our computers, our instant access to information everywhere (see Cha Cha.com), making us somewhat dumber because we don’t have to work as hard? Or is the opposite true? Is the language evolving? Just read some Chaucer to see how different our current language is from Olde English.

Maybe the answer to this question is a matter of age. My dad has zero interest in exploring the new Apple store on Boylston, and I have to be removed by security guards when I try to move in. But, then I think about people like Jobs and Gates who are not that much younger than my father, and how they’ve been constantly evolving alongside the technologies they’ve brought to the market. So, maybe it’s not that older folks can’t understand new technology; it’s just that it’s tough to teach an old dog some new tricks. I’m sure John McCain wants to look Internet savvy when he’s using “The Google.”

Which brings me to the question of what’s next for communication? What will eventually flummox me so much that I will refuse to learn it? The advent of touch computing is on track to eliminate the keyboard, and speech-to-text and voice recognition will radically alter the interfaces of every device we own. The accelerometer in the Wii may become a part of how we control our televisions and other devices with body motions. The Internet itself will evolve considerably so it’s a more seamless experience (try 800-GOOG-411 if you want to see how the voice-controlled Internet will feel). Everything will be wireless.

Thirty years from now the world that I will experience will be radically different from the world today. I will be older, but I think there are plenty of old folks now who have shown that advanced age doesn’t mean turning into tech Luddites. I think about director Sidney Lumet and how he went 100% digital with his filmmaking as soon as it was possible and rejected film. I think about music legend Peter Gabriel and how he’s been able to capitalize on digital downloads with his various business interests (he recorded the first 100% digital album in 1982). So, I’m planning to keep up with and embrace the tech trends, because it keeps you young, even when you’re old.

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Google’s Lively: The Beginning of the 3D Web?

9 07 2008

Yesterday, the most ubiquitous online property, Google, launched a world of its own entitled Lively. Unlike Second Life, a destination, Lively rooms will live everywhere. Anyone with a Google Account can construct their own avatar and wander the Internet, visiting rooms located at blogs, social networking sites, and if a company were to be inclined, the company website.

So what does all this mean? This foray into virtual reality can be seen as a step into the 3D web, where user names gain a face and movement, mimicking reality. It may only be in public beta now, but there is a chance for monetization as one would imagine, why else would they put two years of secret development into the project.

But it can also be seen as a bold move into the world of social networking, where the real time interactions can occur anywhere on the net. Its too early to tell, but I’m certain that it will have implications across the internet and the marketing industry. Some may like it, others may not.

If you feel like trying it out, feel free to visit me or look for username: freescribbles. (warning: My room could use some work.)

(cross-posted with freescribbles)