Category Archives: I Changing Technologies, Lasting Innovations

Design Exercise: Affordance Grid

For an area of interest – perhaps one that you are thinking of as the focus for a larger project — place at least 3 existing digital artifacts on the grid diagram according to their use of the digital affordances described in chapters 2 and 3 of ITM. What affordances or combinations of affordances have been under-exploited

For example, if skateboarding is your focus, you might put a Google map of local skateboard stores in the Spatial quadrant and a skateboarding blog and a skateboarding Twitter feed in the Participatory quadrant. You might then see missed opportunities, such as an encyclopedic archive of skateboard designs or an interactive model of a skateboard park or an augmented reality overlay of skateboarding tricks visible in a particular park. 

What do non-programming designers have to know?

There is a  continuing controversy over whether or not digital media designers  should know how to program.  As someone who learned to program a long time ago but does not actively program, I have taken the position that if everyone only designed what they could personally program we would have much lamer artifacts. For one thing we would not have anything designed by Steve Jobs who worked with the most skilled computer wizards but did not feel the need to code himself. Continue reading

Dick Clark and the 45 rpm Record Format

When Dick Clark died earlier this week, he was best known  as a “New Year’s Eve Icon” from his hosting the annual televising of the Times Square celebration, but he came to prominence earlier as the host of two ground-breaking TV shows, American Bandstand, which aired weekday afternoons and introduced baby boomer teenagers to new records by showing Philadelphia teenagers dancing to the latest releases, and the New York-based Dick Clark Show, which put rock ‘n’ roll performers in front of screaming teenagers for half an hour every Saturday night.

Associated Press Image of Dick Clark with 45 RPM RecordsDick Clark’s success rested upon a change in music distribution platform around 1958  to a new technical standard: the mass-produced 45 rpm vinyl record, smaller and cheaper than the 78 rpm singles that were the previous market standard. Continue reading

The Etch-a-Sketch and the Stone Tablet

Inscription in stone on Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia.

Cable news is obsessed this week over inscription technologies. At issue is whether the political positions taken in primary elections are as erasable as the magnetic writing on an “Etch-a-Sketch,” as the Republican front-runner’s campaign manager imprudently suggested, or written “in stone” as the Republican challenger describes his own unchanging pronouncements.

Politicians would do well to remember that we live in the age of digital media which has disruptive inscription affordances — combining persistent memory with ease of participation by multiple voices of authority.

Continue reading

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