Monday, January 20, 2003

“The real problem is that the computers (with ANY UI) still force users into limited ways of interacting and thinking.” — the anonymous Editor at Nooface, writing in Humanizing the User Interface

Perhaps I just enjoy taking up the contrarian position, but I think that the situation described is not a problem. In fact, it’s good.

Let’s go back to the Baroque. The Baroque style of art defined a large set of rules and limitations on artists’ work; for example, humans and landscapes had to be painted realistically, and the entire piece had to function as a whole to create “an overwhelming emotional impact” (see Mark Harden’s Artchive: “Baroque Art”). This forced painters into limited ways of painting and thinking about their paintings, but it resulted in works like Rubens’ The Elevation of the Cross and Rembrandt’s Philosopher in Meditation.

Does progress spring from utterly new directions in thought? Thomas Edison wouldn’t have thought so. Most of his inventions — the practical light bulb, the telegraph, the phonograph — were extensions of existing research and invention. Edison was certainly creative, but his work was founded on existing science.

Albert Einstein may have invented whole new branches of physics, but even he spent most of his time doggedly applying scientific principles to his theories and research. He saw science differently than most of his peers, but he still worked within its confines.

The Editor of the piece above seems to think that limitations are inherently bad. They’re not. We need to learn how to work within and think in terms of those limitations.

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