Customer Review

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most intelligent and graceful of the cyberbooks, June 4, 1998
This review is from: Interface Culture: How the Digital Medium--from Windows to the Web--Changes the way We Write, Speak (Hardcover)
I've read a lot of these books about cyberculture recently, and Johnson's is one of the best. Positioning itself in neither the camps of "technoboosterism" nor "neo-Luddism," the book is an insightful, informed, and gracefully written history/meditation/prophecy about the evolving nature of "interfaces" as our primary means of inhabiting information society as a culture. Two things about the book stand out for me. One is Johnson's ability to pierce to the core of the notion of "interface" by thinking at a fundamental level about the experience of using such components as "windows," "links," "desktop metaphor," etc. His discussion of these topics is aided by a very judicious, selective look at recent software examples or online paradigms (e.g., his nice discussion of the nature of link discourse on the Suck site). In general, Johnson made me think about these seemingly mundane elements of the "interface" in new, broad ways--technical, social, cultural, and artistic. Secondly, Johnson's penetrating sense of the continuities between current information society and past literary, artistic, and technological societies is a wonder to behold (I enjoyed particularly his comparison of information space to such architectures of the past as the Gothic cathedral or city, and also his excellent comparison/contrast of information space to the 19th-century "connective" novel). He never overdoes the comparisons; I see them as the ballast that accounts for the steadiness of his middle tone between "technoboosterism" and "neo-Luddism." He is not Luddite because he has a strong sense of the evolving, slowly accreting momentum of technical changes and their (sometimes surprising) social reception. (The book thus moves toward an optmistic guess about what a revised text or "meaning"-based interface might look like.) Even the best of the "neo-Luddites" by contrast--for example, Cliffo! rd Stoll's wonderfully droll and insightful Silicon Snake Oil--gives one the impression of being stuck in a little time warp: they came, they saw the limited state of the technology in 1989, or whenever, and they conquered. But on the other hand, Johnson is not boosterish either precisely because his strong sense of history discounts the inflated millennium-mongering of those who claim that every new technological development is revolutionary. A very thoughtful piece of work. I'd recommend it in particular to anyone whose background or current training (e.g., in the humanities, arts, etc.) leaves them grasping for a meaningful way to understand the interface between what they know and love in the past and what the engineers and programmers aspire to in the future.
--Alan Liu
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Location: Altadena/Santa Barbara, Calif.

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