Praxis makes perfect.

This week, I’ve been learning a lot about investigating digital interfaces (sorry to break out the big vocabulary words so early in the week.) I spent the weekend analyzing three different Twitter platforms – Twitter on Google Chrome, Twitter on the iPad and Tweetdeck for the iPad – and digging deep into the different services they do and don’t provide.

Side note: I am very proud of this blog post’s title. Praxis is most easily defined as an established practice or custom, and I have learned that in order to understand an interface’s inner workings and history, I must understand it’s praxis (praxes?) Before that, though, here’s a basic breakdown of the way I use Twitter on the Mac.

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This is the first thing you see when encountering my Twitter profile (the above picture links to the profile itself, by the way.) This is not the profile of a very active Twitter user, although according to my account I manage to tweet at least twice a day. I also consider my following list to be small, but only because I have tried to whittle down the list several times. A strong majority of the users I follow are somehow related to Virginia Tech or journalism, and the rest are simply friends or organizations I am strongly interested in hearing from regularly. My followers, in comparison, are a colorful mix of random spam accounts, friends/coworkers and people who have found me through stories I’ve had published. Because I am a stubborn curmudgeon, I refrain from using hashtags on Twitter in most situations (it’s a personal vendetta against the hashtag and it’s use on Twitter, not because I don’t like engaging the Twitter community.) This probably accounts for my visibility on Twitter, although I don’t really mind. Now that you have a little insight into my own personal praxis, I can explain the three applications/extensions I analyzed.

Twitter was a great platform to begin with because several apps and interfaces have been created to help users interact with Twitter to the fullest extent. Using Twitter as I normally do on my computer was also a familiar exercise, because I have explored their website in my regular use. Twitter for iPad was almost as easy to use, with some exceptions. I try to keep application use to a minimum when using the iPad to save battery and stay organized – it’s like keeping a desk clean, but virtual – and interacting with some of the features on Twitter opened applications that I didn’t want to use (I’m looking at you, Safari.) I never felt truly lost using either of these applications, despite the wide variety of tasks I tried to figure out.

Then came Tweetdeck, one of the most impressive-looking Twitter platforms I’ve ever used. In the past, I’ve used Tweetdeck on my iPod Touch (along with HootSuite and Twitteriffic.) Tweetdeck is meant for users who want to dig deeper into Twitter and really use it to the fullest, but it expects the user to come to the table with a lot of knowledge. Tweetdeck feels like a waste if users don’t create several customized lists to fill the wide screen space it allows. Tweetdeck also seems to drum to a different, more literal beat when it comes to the idea of live-tweeting. Updates scroll by themselves on Tweetdeck, rather than waiting for users to refresh their pages. The inattentive user might get lost in the ever-flowing river of tweets if they are following a significant amount of users.

I don’t think the point of this was to pick a favorite, though. Even though I don’t like to spend too much time on Twitter regardless of platform, I enjoyed truly investigating my options. We live in a world were certain options are marketed to us much more than others, and as a result we lose sight of the variety that exists in the digital world. We are a group of people who learn and use interfaces in a variety of ways, so why not use them the way we use fashion and create our own styles? Some of us will definitely become the fashionistas of the digital interface world and develop our own applications, it just takes steps like this to get closer.

Book dumping in the 21st century, the downside to the digital composition bias

Like some of you, I’m one of those people who loves owning paper copies of books. I’ve tried before to explain why I’m partial to the print editions of things, especially when I also use a Kindle for Mac application and regularly text, email and chat. Before, I couldn’t put my loving nostalgia into words, but I think I’ve found something that can back up my bias – it’s not a book burning, but it’s close.

Imagine my surprise when The Washington Post tweeted an article about my county’s library throwing away books and getting rid of qualified librarians. Are you imagining a disappointed, affronted sort of surprise? Good, then we’re on the same page.

Hearing complaints that the Fairfax County Public Library was throwing away tons of books, County Supervisor Linda Q. Smyth (D-Providence) decided to peer into a dumpster.

Twice, she found stacks and stacks of high-quality books, bought by the taxpayers, piled in the trash. The second time, she filled a box.

Smyth knew that libraries discard books all the time to make room for new ones. But many libraries have volunteer groups that take the discards and resell them to raise money. Or libraries donate discards to shelters, schools or less fortunate towns and cities.

But as Sam Clay, Fairfax’s longtime library director, launched a plan to revamp the county system, no books were given to the Friends of the Library for seven months this year, and more than 250,000 books were destroyed, Smyth said.

“If I didn’t pick up some of these books,” Smyth said, “no one would believe it.”

Now, even in the summer and winter when I am home, I make no use of the Fairfax County Public Library. That doesn’t mean this is any less confusing or upsetting, because for starters, why can’t you recycle books instead of trashing them?  Why is that not the immediate and obvious choice if you have to get rid of books (besides, oh, i don’t know, donating them to people who normally couldn’t have access to them even in a free public library setting?)

Even after reading about the outcry from the rest of the county, a bitter taste remains on my tongue. Digital technologies impact our composition and education in many more ways than this one example, but all it takes is this one example to make me question that impact. If this is one of the consequences of pushing forward into an age where books and other educational materials aren’t valuable when they’re printed, consider me one of those hipsters who buys way too many books and lets them collect on my shelf. Better dusty than destroyed.