Social Media + Infornography + Humane Interfaces

So social media is more humane.

I often turn my attention to the subtle (?) relations between information addiction and user interfaces. Here I’ll cite a term Ilike the most to represent this information addiction/anxiety. Infornography, selon Wikipedia, defines an addiction to or anobsession with acquiring, manipulating, and sharing information, as inmodern society information is being considered not just a valuablecommodity (from a practical point of view) but something that generatesan almost sexual thrill. Information in a sense can facilitate thedevelopment of an alternate world of “escapism” (see, for exemple, thejapanese hikikomori phenomenon). Another (relatively rare) term I liketo use in this context is fragmentia, somewhere defined as acognitive disorder where one feels cut from a sense of wholenessbecause of common exposure to only incomplete parts of things andideas. Both terms represent a state of mind that’s almost always asymptom/consequence of an underlying mental condition such asobssessive-compulsive disorder ― and here the japanese, rathersensibly, identify the core problem of their (social) phenomenon associal withdrawal, while western researchers appear to insist on thelogical impossibility of an “internet addiction disorder”.

My perspective on user interfaces is that the desktop metaphor isjust too cumbersome and slow after a certain critical level ofunderstanding is reached by the user. Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs)doesn’t scale well with the level of alternative items thatcharacterizes the information spaces of the internet. There’s a highlycomplex bit of technology for solving the problem of getting data fromhere to there. Instead of capturing data via pipes and applying anyother filtering or whatever, we introduce a whole new level ofcomplexity and depend upon some GUI to display it. But we havedifferent standards, things are incompatible and you’re limited to whatthe designer intended. OK, there’s an ocean of plugins, yet that justbloats out GUIs even worse. I quickly get bored with a theme and spend3/4 hour looking for a new template for my WordPress-powered blog. Wedevote a lot of the visible screen to graphically represent commands(potencial actions) that are often never used, in a completelanguage-agnostic way.

The natural alternative are text-based (or command line) interfaces:they can be much more usable (in a sense that you have a certainamount of “control”), but in its old-fashioned/geeky version they arealmost always much less learnable. The old-fashioned command line isdumb ― you not only have to know all the relevant commands by heart butyou also have to spell them correctly (with all their myriad options).

There has to be a better way to design interfaces to make the wholecomputing thing more usable and accessible. A powerful enough textparser that one can type in conversational language and have itdecipher what your intentions are, also allowing communication with thecomputer in a more natural way.

I’m writing about not get distracted by the interface itself (or theaesthetics in general) and about effective ways to do with informationoverload. I have experienced a deep internal conflict of this sort, tothe point I even became a de facto text-mode guerrilla some years ago,the kind that uses a text-based browser. There’s now some importantpeople elsewhere with a clear conscience that the command line has thepotential to be one of the most powerful tools to handle both problems,assuming it’s not bogged down by requiring syntax and inscrutablecommands (see Aza Raskin, who challenges the whole application-centriccomputing model). So there’s still a prevalent anti-desktop,content-focused, minimalist view (minimalism as voluntary restrictionof stimuli, that dissuades dissipation and councils concentration, sothat you don’t think about using the computer but just about completingthe task at hand). In fact, search engines are just migrating to answer engines ― as I don’t want search results, I want to knowsomething �, controlled through a modern form of command lineinterface. These modern command languages are tolerant of variations,robust and exhibit slight touches of natural language flexibility: wordorder that’s not critical, use of synonyms or even related terms,spelling accuracy not required.

(And I’m not claiming here any kind of open-source philosophy:nobody cares that the software behind GoodReads is proprietary as longas they can get on their FriendFeed. It’s sufficient if we believe the”Web 2.0″ movement [in its most abstract form] shows the potentialgains of creatively experiment with alternative institutionalenvironments and governance structures.)

So social media is inequivocally more humane than tradicional media,as it’s also more critic/participation-inducing. I’m thinking thatdespite the desired social media literacy it’s also important that thetools itself be designed more in the direction of helping even theliterate (social media) user to filter the noise and to focus contentover style.

Am I even making sense of things?


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