The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

October 26, 2002

( From a course I offered at the New School in 1995 - just found this and
thought it might be of interest - Alan )

Item 10    20-JUN-95    14:31    Alan Sondheim (asondhei)
Graphic and other Interfaces for the Information Highway

I think, given the discussion about the graphic user interfaces, this
text below might be of interest - it was used in last semester's class
and posted on the Net as well. (From March)

We're moving ahead of the "how do you use the Internet" portion of the
utline, since this, as a topic, has been coming up repeatedly...

Future Interfacing on the Net and Information Highway -

A major issue arising in relation to the future of the Internet and
Information Highway, is the nature of the user interfaces that will
be available. The interfaces are more than transparent windows into
the Net services and databases; they also express philosophies of
interaction. Below are some of the concerns involved.

1. Text or image-driven? Mosaic, Netscape, and other applications
clearly favor image-driven browsing. Pictures are used not only as
ornament, but also as icons governing entrance into the Net. Format
well beyond the traditional look of ascii is becoming increasingly

2. Point-and-click or keyboard-driven. More and more, applications
are moving to mouse interaction. This can be considerably slower
than command-line (typed) interfacing, particularly if aliases are
used; a keystroke/return or just a keystroke can be quicker than
point-and-click requiring two interacting movements. The keystroke
entrance also allows tailoring of commands.

3. Speed of access. How quick is the interface? This is determined
by the local machine, the server, the interface interaction, and the
ability of the user to successfully operate the keyboard or mouse.

4. Menu/Hypertext/Icon. Like all of these concerns, there are over-
laps here. A menu-driven system, like gopher itself, is based on
cursor movement or number-entrance, on a line-by-line basis. If the
menu is long, this can be tiresome. A hypertext system, like the
World Wide Web, uses in general only four arrow keys; again, there
can be considerable scrolling involved. Both of these, of course, can
also use the mouse, which is generally at the heart of an icon-system
in which point-and-click moves around a group of scattered symbols on
the screen.

5. In general, the more polished the interface, the less individual
configuring is possible. But this may change, as image-driven inter-
faces, even point-and-click, allow for access to deeper and more
varied levels than the older command-line operations.

6. In a decade or so, text and image-driven interfacing may become
obsolete, replaced by information-shaping applications utilizing intel-
ligent agents, configured for the individual user. These agents would
have the ability to respond through any input/output, including voice,
joystick, keyboard, touch-screen, and three-dimensional mouse. Infor-
mation and format would coalesce into a single object.

7. Information-shaping would lead to _shape-riding,_ the ability to
figuratively ride shapes, transform them, in a manner similar to that
of "liquid architecture," described by Marcos Novak in Benedikt's
Cyberspace: First Steps. Such shape-riding is based on an individual
trajectory through cyberspace.

8. In addition to shape-riding, there is community interfacing, the
use of liquid architectures or information-shaping to create and
inhabit cyberspace communities, which may be information- and/or
socially-oriented. These communities will be the descendents of the
current MOOs, MUSHs, and MUDs, all multi-user domains found on the Net.

9. Currently, development is also heading toward the _virtual office,_
which can be anything from a full virtual-reality environment to an
office representation on a "personal digital assistant" (PDA). The
virtual office is paralleled by the remnants of horse-drawn carriage
construction built into the design of early automobiles - or even the
presence of the static camera which dominated early film. (The camera
thereby represents the static spectator sitting in a theater audience,
instead of a fully-mobile spectator immersed in the action.) Chance
are that the office imagery will change radically over the next few
years, as users become more comfortable with on-line life, and tradi-
tional routines (even such as downloading to hard-copy paper) are for-
gotten or bypassed.

10. The interface itself, in any form, will become a confluence of
media, including moving images (animations and video in general),
sound, and, in VR, constantly transforming environments. Human inter-
action will change within two decades to more "cerebral" operations,
using eye-movement and brain electrical activity for control.

11. Virtual sexuality will become integrated with future interfacing;
sexuality is already one of the prime content-elements of the Net.
Full-body control and response may become a basic component of commu-
nication; this depends of course to some extent on regulation.

12. The _visions_ that emerge from this - the world as menu or hyper-
text, the body as integrated into communications or data bases, liquid
architecture and shape-riding replacing the static and "obdurate" pre-
sence of objects in real life - will obviously modify the _subject_
herself or himself. It is hard to speculate on what will happen in
these environments in the long term. For one thing, application and
community become equivalent, each creating and interpenetrating the
other. And sexuality, emotions, and politics all become "loosened" in
cyberspace as well; the intensity of _non_ face-to-face communication
can be overwhelming.

Any comments would be greatly appreciated!


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