It might be trivial to restate that the term computer stands for a wide class of calculating, data-processing, and information-storage-and-retrieval machines, but this tends to be overlooked now that computers are becoming invisible and operating systems are perceived as a set of metaphors. The accessibility of computer technology has been achieved through a simplification of our interfaces, but at the same time, it created a large distance from the underlying layers of this technology. Indeed, our interfaces, no longer reveal the reality of our technological environment and no longer allow time to assimilate how they work. It is through an accumulation of small-scale design decisions that our computers are misleadingly represented as instantaneous machines.
The last software update macOS Version Mojave,
MacOS Mojave (version 10.14) is the fifteenth major release of macOS, Apple Inc.’s desktop operating system for Macintosh computers was released to the public on September 24, 2018.
released in September 2018, has changed its window minimiser default setting from its famous genie effect to a basic scale effect. In previous versions, whenever you were minimising a window, the window was getting skinnier at the bottom and was getting sucked into the dock
The Dock is a prominent feature of the graphical user interface of the macOS operating system. It is used to launch applications and to switch between running applications
whereas now it promptly flies down into it. I could not find any direct explanation justifying this switch, but while seeking for one, I discovered that there has in fact been an ongoing discussion since 2005. Many tech forums offer a Genie VS Scale Effect debate page.
A clear consensus is in support of the fastness of the scale effect : “With the genie effect, before you can move onto the next program you want to use, you have to wait approximately two full seconds for the previous window to minimize !!!! These seconds may not seem like much now, but after trying this for a few hours you’ll wish you made the change sooner”, “People don’t like waiting for things–it’s all about instant gratification now.”
Increasing Mac Productivity: Genie VS Scale Minimization. 2018. Increasing Mac Productivity: Genie VS Scale Minimization. [ONLINE] Available at: https://macaulay.cuny.edu/eportfolios/utopiaofdaniel/2012/10/increasing-mac-productivity-genie-vs-scale-minimization/. [Accessed 21 November 2018].
Yet, with the genie effect, there was still a materialisation of a movement, a clear transition between two states of the window. I do wonder if this change might just be a first step on the path to its extinction and I'm not ready to let go of my two full second yet. The disappearance of this short processing time imposes a distance between our actions and their materialisation on the screen. We no longer allow the machine to give us feedback on what it is computing.
Making the user wait no more than a second to achieve his task is also a key investment priority for Google Inc.. In a patent filing entitled predicting user navigation event
United States Patent Application 20180032877, February 1, 2018. United States Patent Application: 0180032877. 2018. United States Patent Application: 0180032877. [ONLINE] Available at: http://appft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PG01&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.html&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=%2220180032877%22.PGNR.&OS=DN/20180032877&RS=DN/20180032877. [Accessed 21 November 2018].
released in February 2018, Google outlines a system that will predict the navigation activity of each user in order to preload the links they will most likely click on. In every online search, there is a short period of time where the query is sent to the server, sent back to the client and the content is changed inside the web browser. An interstitial time lapse where the user is usually inactive: “However, as fast as current high-speed internet services are, the act of browsing the web is not instantaneous. When a user selects a link on a page or enters a uniform resource locator (URL) in a text field, there is a delay while data is requested from the host, sent to the client, and rendered in the browser. The user is typically idle while waiting for their requested site to load. While high-speed internet access may limit this delay to a few seconds, even this short delay can add up to thousands of man-hours of lost productivity each year.” The methods describe a variety of manners to predict the next navigation event, including examining individual and aggregate historical data, text entry prediction, and cursor input monitoring. However, there is a time when the machine needs to process the input, but this it will now be delayed from the present time of the action in order to appear instantaneous.
This pretended immediateness can also be witnessed though the progressive disappearance of hover states among a large number of web interfaces. In HTML
Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) is the standard markup language for creating web pages and web applications.
:hover,identifies content only when the user “points to” the visible element
is a pseudo-class
Pseudo-classes are used in CSS selectors to permit formatting based on information that is not contained in the document tree.
that can be added to one element of the web page. This element can then reveal something more than it first expressed when the page is loaded. Visual feedback is triggered by the position of your cursor browsing through the page, when you approach this element, move near it or move over it. For example, it is commonly used to switch from the default cursor to the mickey-hand pointer when the user hover over one link. Those intermediate states glimpse a possible power of action and a talkback from the computer.
The movements of this cursor on the screen is the projection of your gestures in real life, and echoed on the screen via a cursor and other visual changes invoked by this hover state. It creates a small delay, a lapse in time where the user can grasp their own projection in digital space and can hesitate, reconsider, make a decision. The technical term used to describe this type of interaction is relative positioning: the new cursor location will depend on its previous location, the distance and direction in which the mouse has moved. But here again, there is an ongoing debate in a variety of blogs whether they are necessary or not. The pro-argument supports my statement: "When they are done correctly they provide visual feedback to the user that the control does something. It also helps the interface communicate with the user—it’s as if it tells the user that the application is listening."
User Experience Stack Exchange. 2019. website design - Are hover states necessary? - User Experience Stack Exchange. [ONLINE] Available at: https://ux.stackexchange.com/questions/33960/are-hover-states-necessary [Accessed 23 January 2019]
But there are many more counterclaims which are closely linked to the development of the mobile web. Indeed with the booming development of tactile devices we are moving from relative to absolute pointing devices and theses hover states tends to disappear. In fact, they can no longer operate in touch-screen technology. As the amount of mobile traffic now accounts for more than half of total internet traffic, responsive design has become the core of the design approach to website construction.
Yet the common understanding of responsive design is that they have a fluid and flexible layout which adjusts according to screen size, but out of concern for cross-format adaptability, web makers have to consider the different embedded features of the devices in which the platform plans to be accessible. A website should offer an optimised browsing experience regardless of which device it will be browsed through at any given time. As handheld devices are more restrictive than other types of devices, the most popular design approach became the mobile-first process. The mobile-first approach is exactly as it sounds: designing for the smallest screen and working your way up. Accordingly, web designers avoid using technologies that are not cross-platform, so if a user is visiting a website looking for information, using a specific feature, and they return later on a different device they should be able to find that same information, in a similar mode of navigation.
Consequently hover states are no longer present in our mobile interfaces and are disappearing simultaneously from our web interfaces. This technical change reveals an important transition of our way to interact with technology. Rob Giampietro wistfully depicts this relationship transformation in a series of metaphors: “Instead of acknowledging the screen, the new illusion is attempting to dematerialise it. This is an understandable progression. Perhaps it’s the course we’ll stay with. Nevertheless, I will miss catching a reflection in the shop window late at night. Watching ripples on the water after someone’s been sitting by the lake. Feeling the breeze kick up all of a sudden and then fade away, leaving the world silent and still. A cursor might swing like a flashlight in the dark, never coming to rest. Day-glo gradients might twist like kaleidoscopes on a cracked display. I might skim the surface of words and find worlds upon worlds. I might see my breath and gasp, for a moment, at the invisible made vivid." Giampietro R, 2019
Douglas Engelbart, known as the inventor of the computer mouse, set a conceptual framework to Augment Human Intellect with computers back in 1962. He was defining this relative pointing as a concept that: “puts the human up where he can see what is going on and can point the direction to move next.”
Engelbart, D. 1962.
With touchscreen and direct manipulation prevalent, there is no more distance between the user and the device. Despite this illusion of proximity to the machine, this absence of a hover state imposes a distance instead; the interface no longer lets us decode its mechanisms. It has nothing to tease you with, to hint at, or to make you want, because it doesn’t know you’re there. It is like looking in a mirror and not seeing your reflection. The user is becoming invisible to the machine. This transition from relative to absolute is in itself a way to outline what is happening with our digital environment. If we look at the definition of absolute, it means unrestricted, free from limitation, complete. And that's exactly what the technology industry insists on making us believe, that you can do everything with a computer without having to understand anything.
If we look at its etymology, the latin word ab-solutus, outlines the paradox perfectly: make separate, off, away form limitations. It summarises well the idea in one word that the fake completeness of our machines separates us from the reality of their functioning. Where a relative approach should be maintained: existing or having its specific nature only by relation to something else.
Whether it is in minimizing our windows, making web searches or browsing through web interfaces, everything seems to be embedded politics of immediacy in order to provide direct paths to anything a user might want to achieve, leading them to think there is nothing between input and output.
Whitney Museum of American Art. 2018. W. Bradford Paley: Code Profiles. [Online Video]. 26 September 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=50&v=Hs8rDvC3GZg&fbclid=IwAR0jltGPay_Y9QHn2hNSPaMAXO4k4EiKm4CeVPsWgGPpMta87M_zQgesSpw. [Accessed: 8 November 2018].
shows us that computers can perceive and think like we do. The installation brings back computer processing to the scale of human thoughts, by placing it in a simultaneous timescale, and permits to bring the computer, one we see as distant from ourselves to something intelligible. By marrying our time-based bodies and minds to technologies which are biased against time altogether, we end up bringing ourselves closer to an understanding.
In his interactive installation Paley places the three main stakeholders of our technocratic world within the same proverbial boat, bridging the gap between human and machine. The installation looks at the computer program as text and visually materialises how the user, the programmer and the computer can coexist within the same process of reading this text. On a black screen, three lines are appearing progressively: The yellow line follows how the user would read a code as his cultural heritage has trained him to read a text: from left to right, line by line, paragraph by paragraph, block by block. The white line follows the programmer’s reasoning, focusing on one section and then jumping to a related function. Then the green line, moves along to execute the program, showing the loops and repetitions in a high-speed motion.This installation makes it clear; digital technology is programmed. It also clarifies who is responsible for what. There is no technology-people relation, there is only the triangular relationship user-programmer-computer. The machine executes. The programmer translates. The user reinterprets.
As Olia Lialina rightly puts it: “There is no natural interaction, and there are no invisible computers, there only hidden ones”. Lialina, 2015
These transitory moments are also information, and as such, no less negligible than the desired output. They allow us to understand connections, reactions and consequences of our actions on the screen. They are important reference points that are crucial to preserve. I am convinced that human computer interfaces and especially web interfaces could help address the aspects of programmability and computation. It is mostly assumed that the role of interface design is to expose capabilities of the system to its user, but they should also be responsible for conveying the image of the machine.
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