Steven Johnson turns the tables on the way we consider our computer interfaces. While many discussions focus on how interfaces help us work by adapting to our ways of thinking and our real-world metaphors, Johnson jumps from there to look at how our thinking and world view are altered by our computer interfaces.
He begins with the simple: The mouse improved the spatial nature of our computers by letting us move, by the proxy of our pointers, within the screen. The windows metaphor made cyberspace a 3-D space. And while we tend to think about the graphical nature of interfaces, Johnson also explores the textual side and how it has changed the way we work with the written word.
Interface Culture then goes on to show how, with each advance in technology, the interface shapes our perceptions in new ways. Where mice and windows turned the computing world into cyberspace, agents have created a perception of software as personality. On the larger scale, Johnson sees these tools, originally built on noncyber metaphors, as creating, in their turn, a new set of metaphors for looking at the rest of the world. And while he finds it exciting, he spends considerable time on such shortcomings in our approach to interfacing: what he considers the excessive emphasis on graphics elements at the cost of anything textual. Johnson, who is the editor of the cerebral Feed Web site and whom Newsweek called one of the most influential people in cyberspace, has written an intelligent book about interface design, its relationship to the real world, and how it affects our perception of worlds both cyber and physical.
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