Dashboard knives and Procrustean beds

To create my blog entries my typical MO to date has been to cull phrases I found provoking, intriguing, or delicious from the reading into a post draft and craft a narrative based on the results of my truffle-hunting. That method was telling this week because I wanted to pull vast swaths of the excerpt from Computer Lib/Dream Machines by Ted Nelson into the new post window. And that was the case because I overwhelmingly agreed with him and found his writing style delightful. Many of his points were consistent with my previous assertions here — especially that we in the laity need to practice mindfulness, advocacy, and forward-thinking. While I collected a plethora of gems from his writing, I’ll share only two that have particularly stayed with me since I began composing this post. First:

To me this seems like a beautiful example of what happens when you let insulated technical people design the system for you: a “kill” button on the keyboard is about as intelligent as installing knives on the dashboard of a car, pointing at the passenger.

What an image. The point here being that systems should be designed for the people who use them rather than the convenience of the developers who program them (see, also, his wonderful discussion of the Procrustean bed). And then:

I think that when the real media of the future arrive, the smallest child will know it right away (and perhaps first)…when you can’t tear a teeny kid away from the computer screen, we’ll have gotten there.

So: kids and iPads or other gaming systems. Does that mean we’ve “gotten there”? I think I’d argue that while I found Nelson prescient and spot-on about most things I’m not totally sure about this point (see my last post, for example). Just because something is immersive doesn’t exactly mean we’ve gotten what we “want”, does it? Or am I misinterpreting his point and we ARE there, but we’re not using these media effectively yet? And, assuming we are “there” in some sense, is the actuality really desirable in the sense Nelson predicted? Hmmm.

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