March 12, 2010

In Which Everything Is Hypertext...

So earlier today, I was reading an article that I’d printed from the web, which I do a lot if it’s longish and textual. Half way down the first page, I came across an underlined word — nothing notable necessarily, just what had, until being reified on paper, been a link signifier — and then I did just what I’d have done had I been reading a web page. I hovered over the word in order to see where it linked to. That is, I held my pen over the underlined word at that spot. It was only when I looked down to the left corner and found it to be just a blank white spot of physical paper that I realized what I was doing. That gesture of hovering over a link and checking the toolbar for the destination has become so internalized that I reflexively did it to a printed page, treating my pen-in-hand as the cursor.

This has happened before.

In 1997, a roommate and I were cleaning up the apartement we’d shared for a summer before returning to dorm life. At one point, I recall pointing at a stack of magazines and papers we’d allowed to accrue in one corner and asked John, “Hey are we gonna delete these?” The thing is, I wasn’t trying to be funny. I hadn't recontextuallized "Delete" on purpose at all. In fact, I didn’t even notice I’d said it. John just shot me an odd look, and was like “Delete?” We laughed at the time, but it dawned on me later that it really just represented how I’d come to think in digitial terms. (We could dicuss the sociological implications of this kind of thing in great depth I suspect, and maybe I will someday).

But I think it’s kind of profound and maybe points the way to how devices like the iPad are going to have to behave to take advantage of certain modern reflexes. And then too how designers will need to be aware of those reflexes and expectations that haven’t changed, and are still informed by traditional or historical modes.

At 31, I’ve perhaps had less immersion in tech than the average 10-15 year old, so how much more of this kind of thing can we expect from them? What does it say about how we should think about software and industrial design? It’s no secret that I’m excited by the iPad, but more than the device itself, I’m excited by where it seems to point. The future is never quite NOW, because we (those of us with a futurist bent anyway) are always extrapolating, and I never tire of this sort of contemplation.

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