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We have understood quite a lot about human physiology and it's evolutionary past that it may be possible to minimally define an interface that is natural to humans. Books are natural as reading systems than monitors. Just thinking aloud. -SelvakumarGanesan

Many years people knew that scrolls where a natural reading system, and before that stone tablets where very popular. There is nothing about paper which makes it a natural interface. The paper book has the advantage that it's low power (you still need light), portable (a low mass/data ratio), available on demand, and has a much beter search interface then a scroll or stone tablet. A paper book however does not have the feature to support CopyPasteEditPublish?.

We design for human anatomy and the constraints set by our biology. Books have evolved for our anatomy. It's bound into a easily carriable package. It's got "pages" that are easy to flip using your finger. It's organized with a "Table of Contents", an "Index", "Chapters" that our brain can easily use and navigate using the eyes and hands.

we have learnt to mold our habits around technologies that evolve with us. Books have been around for thousands of years. That's a lot of historical baggage that has molded human culture. I am of the opinion that an interface is defined by age's cultural and historical practices. In ancient times when people used scrolls, stone tablets, it was indeed natural - since their culture had only prepared them for scrolls and stone tablets. Aristotle would be at a loss if he was given a book from the future as he would've lacked the necessary cultural background to interpret it (the package). In retrospect we may consider interfaces invented later to be superior, which is fine as long as we understand the cultural caveat.

(I think) I am trying to get at an abstract characterization of interfaces that could minimally satisfy human requirements for interfaces. A characterization that considers physiological, cultural and technological aspects holistically. Within such a characterization it may be possible to meaningfully discuss Rosetta stones, books, computers (small, big, wearable, networked, etc) on an equal footing. Although related, Interfaces pose a different set of design challenges from Storage/Retrieval systems. --SelvakumarGanesan

A PersonalComputer? is more like a (too small) stone wall, and the very fine PowerBook? I write this on is more like a stone tablet. I projected this in to the future (in NetworkRepository) and tried to extrapolate the future of development given that, as you describe here above, the LookAndFeel? will naturally gravitate towards the essence of bookness. I doubt a pad will have pages, but it could because pages are a SpatialInterface? (which some people like). Notice that an index, a toc, and such are metadata about the text in the book: they are only local optimum of representation given the limitations of the technology of bookbinding.

I've been reading up on the history of reading and writing in the last year and it's been getting me very excited, since the only way to understand the DigitalNetwork is to see it as a return to OralCulture using PrintCulture? tools. That being said, apparently books as we know them have only really been around for a few hundred years. ManuscriptCulture is quite different than PrintCulture?; for the most part, it was an OralCulture. The PrintRhetoric? of chapters, headings, titles, only evolved in the 17th and 18th centuries. The affordances of the medium led to that construction, as well as the Euro-centric of hierarchical narrative which may or may not be rooted in the structure of the brain. -- SunirShah

Quoting from above the only way to understand the DigitalNetwork is to see it as a return to OralCulture using PrintCulture? tools. Could you expand? --SelvakumarGanesan

In some sense writing and reading was a step backward from OralCulture: a written text is not interactive, can not be updated with new information without rewriting it (which mostly resulted in no updates), you needed training to learn this new technology (while everyone could tell a story). Writing and reading was/is done in isolation in a quiet place, while telling stories was/is a social event. People maybe even feared that if writing and reading ever became populair, people would no longer talk to each other, and that this would disrupt the social fabric of community.

Personally, I like that a wiki is not hierarchical in structure but more thematical. A book is also linear while a wiki is web shaped. A book is static, a wiki is dynamic: it can be adapted to new situations. I believe changeability is in fact a natural feature which book currently lack.

In a sense we have recreated paper on our computer screens. Example: a wordprocessor is a simulation of a printing press with virtual paper and virtual print. It's only a simulation with the same limitations. The WorldWideWeb (as originally intended in its platform agnostic form) is a much richer reinterpretation of writing and reading. The WikiWikiWeb is even deeper as it melts reading and writing in to one medium, one action.

Any good works on the history of books you'd like to point us towards?

I've found Ong (1982) as cited on OralCulture to be a good source. Gideon's argument against writing in the first paragraph was the same one that Plato made ever so long ago, which only goes to show you it has never been resolved. While I agree with the rest, I'd like to disagree that reading was solitary. Reading was communal in ManuscriptCulture due mostly to the scarcity of books. Also, when people read, they read aloud, even when reading by themselves which was rather rare. At least so says Ong (1982). Manuscripts functioned as information stores for stories. They weren't separated from storytelling culture. -- SunirShah

ManuscriptCulture is in that case a continuation of OralCulture, even if it lacks the features of adaptability and extendibility: The invention of writing and reading had the effect that it made gods of mortal men long past the time they lived. It shaped our idea of the present and the past, making the past extend much farther then before and the present much smaller in comparison. It influences our concept of truth (where the only proof needed was the written word).

Because manuscripts are tedious to make it gave in time great power to the keepers of the text. During the first renaissance, when, until then, it had been the church which controlled which text was preserved and which was deleted, text was liberated from its prison and began to develop a new more individualistic culture of the printed text.

(In these days we live in a SecondRenaissance?: "written text" now include music, software, photos and movies. Digitalisation has made reproduction cheaper then ever before. This time it's big business which controls the flow and access to text. Just like in the first renaissance the people who fear becoming irrelevant are trying to use their influence over the law to keep their control; It did not work the first time, it will not work now. The only lesson which can be learned from all this is that just as we need a separation of church and state, we also need a separation of business and state.)

I completely agree with you that ManuscriptCulture is a continuation of OralCulture; upon reading the history of manuscripts, I think the Internet also makes for an OralCulture. And in fact, reading a lot more about the history of reading and writing, the euro-centric view of the printing press with IntellectualProperty has been an aberration in the history of human language, and possibly deleterious, except in the one case of supporting the creation of horizontally GlobalMedia? (a good thing) and vertically a wide ecology of communications media.

Regarding another of your major points, we have a concept here called LifeInText (inspired by Jesus, no less) to describe the reach of human beings beyond their vocality, into their words.

Your point about the separation of business and state is interesting. At the time when capitalism was created, that was largely the intent, but the power imbalance was so large that the effects today were unpredictable. AdamSmith?'s world of infinite resources was a good approximation, so unbounded growth was not a bad thing. Of course, resources are finite, and power must also be balanced. The normal solutions are either FreeMarket? competition or GovernmentRegulation?, or some balance between, but neither are particularly efficient. I think occasionally what another orthogonal BalancingForce might be. I'm mildly hopeful bottom-up PoliticalAction might actually be an answer in some way. -- SunirShah

PoliticalAction as in Lessig's FreeCulture? I am indeed hopeful that such a movement will distribute enough power into the collective hands to be a BalancingForce. -- SelvakumarGanesan

See also TheProcessedBook.

CategoryInterfaceDesign CategoryText


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