Box Logic Notes #2
Interface-Is the goal transparency or hypermedia?
Rokeby (1995) is clearly adopting a modernist aesthetic when he writes that “while engineers strive to maintain the illusion of transparency in the design and refinement of media technologies, artists explore the meaning of the interface itself, using various transformations of the media as their palette (133)” (quoted in Bolter and Grusin 42).
I found this portion of Bolter and Grusin’s text on remediation as it relates to interface very interesting. If I’m honest, I’ve never been much of a fan of abstract, modern, or post modern art. I’ve never really “gotten” it, but this idea of artists who “explore the meaning of the interface itself” actually makes sense to me. Who would have thought that a course on new media studies would help me develop an appreciate for art?
But I did find the idea that “engineers [of new media] strive to maintain the illusion of transparency” very interesting, and I have bought into the idea that this is truly the reason for remediation– that we change our media to make the interface less transparent.
Then, Bolter and Grusin introduced the concept of hypermedia, and I had to take a few steps back. If remediation is, in fact, a sort of evolution of media, then why don’t all changes to interface attempt to remove the appearance of the media? This is a thread that I will look to explore further later on.
In reading this text by Rokeby, I am struck by the similarities between art and new media, between the ways interfaces act to be the connection between reader/viewer/human and text/artwork/new media. In a sense, they are all connected because they are all forms of communication meant to express understanding and meaning in the world. Rokeby argues that “the work is mirror, image, and window combined” (135). This idea that an interface is the meeting place of all players emphasizes the importance of the interface in any sort of communication, be it traditional media or new media. That the interface acts as a mirror is an interesting concept as well. Next week, I think I’m going to delve more into this text.
The cultural influence on interface
Media theorist Simon Penny (1995) points out that for interface designers: “transparent means that the computer interface fades into the experiential background and the analogy on which the software is based (typewriter, drawing table, paintbox, etc) is foregrounded. If the paintbox software is ‘intuitive,’ it is only intuitive because the paintbox is a culturally familiar object (55)” (quoted in Bolter and Grusin 32).
I’m reminded of a conversation I had this week with a friend of mine. She teaches English Language Learners at the elementary level. She had just begun her three weeks of testing with her students; she tests students from 1st to 4th grade. This year, she was testing them all on laptop computers. For many of the students, they had never touched a laptop before, but most of them had been exposed to smartphones and tablets at home. The keyboard was an enigma to many of these students. My friend told me many of them were touching the screen and complaining that “this is the weirdest iPad ever!”
Now this leads me to think about interface and remediation. Clearly, as humans, we feel the need to change our media (otherwise, our forms of communication wouldn’t have changed much over millennia). In many ways this is a form of evolution, like any other. As our cultural conditions change, so do our media, and often times it is the interface that changes. But this example of the tiny testers shows, like Simon Penny says in the above quote, that these changes are intuitive because [the interface/object] that came before was a “culturally familiar object.” Touching the laptop screen makes sense to those tiny children, not because this interface was superior or “natural,” but because this was their cultural expectation, having used a similar interface before.
The multiplicity of windows and the heterogeneity of their contents mean that the user is repeatedly brought back into contact with the interface, which she learns to read just as she would ready any hypertext” (Bolter and Grusin 33)
And this quote, I hope, will be my starting off point next week…
Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding new media. Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 2003.
Delaunay, Robert. Le Premier Disque. Digital image. Wikimedia. 02 Mar. 2019 <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abstract_art#/media/File:Robert_Delaunay,_1913,_Premier_Disque,_134_cm,_52.7_inches,_Private_collection.jpg>.
Goldengruen, Paul Salvator. Der-Malerfürst. Digital image. Wikimedia. 2008. 02 Mar. 2019 <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paul_Salvator_Goldengruen;_Der_Maler-F%C3%BCrst.jpg#globalusage>.
Kramer, Margia. CIA Screen. Digital image. Wikimedia. 2017. 02 Mar. 2019 <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CIAScreen_IMG_0370-1.jpg>.
Penny, Simon, ed. 1995. Critical Issues in Electronic Media. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1995.
Rokeby, David. 1995. “Transforming Mirrors: Subjectivity and Control in Interactive Media.” In Simon Penny, ed., Critical Issues in Electronic Media, pp. 133-158. Albany: State University of New York Press.