Category Archives: Ch 0 Introduction

How to Use the Design Exercises on this Site

The Design Exercises on this site, like the Design Explorations in the book, are appropriate thought exercises for designers which should help them to think outside their disciplinary training and focus on the collective process of inventing the medium.

For students, these Design Exercises are appropriate for short weekly assignments to develop the habit of critiquing design with carefully chosen words and specific examples. A good way to organize this assignment is to have students submit a 50-200 word text and an image with link to an online video, app,  or live website as appropriate, and to have them look at one another’s submissions by posting them to a shared page, like a wiki or a page generated by php from a shared folder. They are a good complement to courses that also include substantial hands-on project development.

The Design Explorations in the book can also be used in the same way but they tend to be more open-ended and time-intensive group activities, suitable for an in-class design lab or longer-term student project development.

Return to the Holodeck

In the 14 years since the publication of Hamlet on the Holodeck, there has been a rich and diverse expressive practice at the intersection of storytelling and interactivity.  This talk, which I gave as part of Georgia Tech’s GVU Brown Bag series in October 2011, surveys some representative examples of computational narrative forms and identifies  promising areas for innovation.

Should designers support or subvert users’ culture?

In the first wave of digital invention it was a rallying cry to proclaim that “information wants to be free.”  Of course what this really meant was that a certain subculture of educated people, mostly in universities, wanted  to access and share information without having to pay for it. This cultural attitude has produced useful online resources like Wikipedia and it has also produced high visibility arrests for media piracy and endless litigation against the Google Book Project.  We now know whatever “information” may want, rights holders often want to be paid.

Princeton researcher Janet Vertesi studies the cultural context of scientific investigation at NASA.

I was reminded of this change in perspective recently by Janet Vertesi, who was at Georgia Tech speaking about her illuminating research on knowledge cultures at NASA. Vertesi studied two projects which collected very different configurations of knowledge, mirroring the very different social organization of the investigating teams. One team which divided up the ownership of individual instruments and had a highly politicized decision making process collected data with great breadth but little coherence; a second team that shared a common instrument set and made decisions by consensus collected data that was highly integrated and detailed but narrow in scope. Vertesi’s presentation made it clear that there was no such thing as objective data, and that knowledge reflected cultural organization.  It was Vertesi’s very sensible position that designers must heed such differences in  cultural configuration or risk creating tools that do not fit the user group. Continue reading

The Future of the Book is Too Narrow a Question

I am often asked to comment on the Future of the Book. As someone who has just written a very large book that took a great deal of time to write and that I hope will be useful to many people, I sympathize with the impulse to equate knowledge-transmission-by-print-on-paper with KNOWLEDGE itself. But this is a mistake. Continue reading

Disruptions of Transmission: Academic Publishing


Blog of Cambridge University mathematician Timothy Gowers who asks, "Why can't we just tell Elsevier that we no longer wish to publish with them?"

Academic life is characterized by the need to “publish or perish,” but some academics are calling for a boycott of a very prestigious publisher — another example of the disruptions caused by the switch from legacy to digital forms of information transmission.

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Active Creation of Belief

Television producers are increasingly turning to interactive applications to encourage fans to become more immersed in a series’ storyworld through activities that provoke the active creation of belief.

HBO GO Game of Thrones Application

Active Creation of Belief is a  design term I first used in Hamlet on the Holodeck, to contrast with Coleridge’s classic term of “suspension of disbelief”  and to refute the notion that narrative pleasures are incompatible with interactivity.

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Disruptions of Transmission: the Piracy Problem

In Chapter 1 of Inventing the Medium  I describe the 3 layers that make up any medium of communication: inscription, transmission, and representation
(see Glossary for definitions), and I noted that the new digital medium has introduced disruption at all three levels. Last week’s showdown over SOPA and PIPA, the proposed legislation that would have eliminated piracy by punishing any site that linked to illegal content, is a good example of problem in the transmission layer — and it offers us the opportunity to ask how a more mature medium would handle the situation. Continue reading