Tuesday, 9 October 2012


The pace of change in the digital age is often described as very rapid, but it can be depressing how long the drag is from analogue relics, how much we continue to cling to old images, old ways of doing things, and some things that actually hold back progress.
What do I mean? The title of this post comes from the first article discussed below, and is defined as “a derivative object that retains ornamental design cues to a structure that was necessary in the original” (but, implicitly, is no longer necessary – the definition is from the Oxford English Dictionary). Bear with me...
John Naughton, in Sunday’s Observer, ridiculed Apple’s old fashioned looking apps, such as a calendar with faux leather stitching graphics (“Ugh. God. Why is Apple Making Everything Look Like an Ugly Wild West?”).  One in the eye for the Apple design fanboys. But the serious point is the lack of imagination in looking forward. A more telling example is that the iPad virtual onscreen keyboard continues to mimic a typewriter, even though, as Naughton says, “most of Facebook’s 900 million users have never seen a typewriter”.
Donald Clark is currently blogging a great series on learning technologies, and in his 5 October post discusses how technologies lock-in practice, and the “keyboard format, a relic from the mechanical past, still dominates the digital future. The word ‘typewriter’ it is said, is the longest word you can type from one row of letters on a QWERTY keyboard”. Clark goes on to bemoan “the degree to which Google, Apple and others lock users into their algorithmic model, giving the illusion of openness”.
But neither Google nor Apple has any stake in retaining typewriter keyboards. Nobody has. And the field is open to whoever can perfect alternative user interfaces first.
I’ve blogged about this before: recently, I thought, but a search shows it was four-and-a-half years ago! When I said the pace of change can be depressing, this is the quote I was thinking of:
“... I don’t think that day is far off. Voice recognition software, touch-sensitive screens, handwriting recognition software are developments that point the way ahead. When Mr Spock first talked to the computer in Star Trek, it must have seemed impossibly futuristic, but now that day is near. And the keyboard and the mouse are on borrowed time”.
Four-and-a-half years later, I don’t think we’re any further forward. We honestly should be.

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