<< mobilism >> 10 thoughts on the desktop
for étapes magazine by erik adigard / M-A-D & john alderman

PRODUCTIVE > As the desktop sits atop the OS, the web browser and other programs take part of, and extend the desktop. An agenda of sense, embodied by this layering, seems to have snuck through the back door of the computer desktop and is now poised to take over other devices, guiding us to visualize and act upon the world, society, and commerce in new ways. Making sense of our world; it's a deep, if grandiose premise, but as the methods inherent to computing are now being used to mediate ever more of our life, it seems as if they are struggling to do just that. It's a radical disruption, and not necessarily a benevolent one, as it is driven largely by corporate plans, making sense of things that have never before needed it.
> The operating system is a way of wrapping the messy workings of computer hardware, shaping its input and output into a form that feels intuitive and consistent to a human. The desktop is essentially a layered group of methods for enabling us to act: a productivity tool.
> In the early days, manipulating data meant fairly simple tasks such as word processing and account balancing. Now, alls in this powerful framework to quickly churn out new tools. They are also increasingly recreating the master toolset in their own image, and in the last half-decade a rise of alternative operating systems and even more alternative desktops has taken hold.
> Paradoxically, the mass action of the operating system has allowed mass-personalization at the level of the desktop. The desktop is now, as much as our actual home, the place where we live. It has become so adaptive and our desktop spaces are so deeply personal that using someone else's computer feels like invading their privacy. >>

TACTILE > Touch is a fundamental human method of accomplishing tasks. Engaging this sense is natural, and the combination of a mouse and pointer is the primary means to affect the desktop. Ease of touch provides direct paths that amplify human actions. Interesting things can happen because getting to the point of action is easier -- abstraction allows people to quickly understand and exploit new concepts, to imagine new things (even if it may guide our thoughts somewhat). As interfaces to the Net are multiplying, responses to the touch and vision combination engage further. The Nintendo Wii has triumphed by offering a computer gaming system that values interface over graphic realism: sensuality and playfulness above overwhelming stimulation.
MODULAR > A toolbox of functions can be assembled to fit user needs: in software this is known as being object oriented, a powerful concept and one that has become more pervasive in other parts of design and engineering. To accommodate a multiplicity of tasks, and personal and systemic agendas, desktops must be adaptive to our ever shifting demands. As such, the desktop continually reframes our daily processes.
HYPERTROPHIC > As computing's scope increases, it calls for new strategies to make sense out of the connected mass of humanity, media, and a billion other computers and nodes everything from medical implants to smart dust. The desktop, as center of this expanding universe, naturally attracts functions and gets fatter and more complex. In it there is also a collision of meanings and multiple forms: As any form of media changes to Internet distribution, it doesn't just have to reexamine what it once was; it has to consider, and possibly adopt, everything else on the Net. TV, for instance, is no longer just TV, but TV, books, magazines, movies, spreadsheet, database, RSS feed, GPS, and telephone.
COMMERCIAL > Despite a sense of play (derided by early critics), the environment of Xerox, Apple, and Microsoft in which the GUI and the desktop arose was definitely commercial. The desktop is a commodity and one that takes care of others of its kind. As a business tool it must itself provide the context for other goods and services. Just as it is a platform to produce everything and access vast and complex financial systems, it encourages users to take commercial actions from buying a book to financing an enterprise.
MEDIATED > The desktop is the new panorama of our lives, a landscape we inhabit during most of our days whether at home, in our cars, on our phones or in portable entertainment machines. Screens and interfaces are with us, guiding and affecting our lives, buffering our interactions with other people. Through simple icons, visual abstraction is a tool that allows anyone to engage with something of greater complexity. Because the desktop can quickly morph into a window of mass media, the combination of media saturation and complex interfaces can be either mind numbing or stimulating. Either way, it changes how we think, it is the context of today as TV was that of yesterday.
CONNECTED > The desktop can no longer be conceived of except as a part of a network. Connected with others allows a working system, and the bulk of interesting work now being done on computers takes full advantage of the complexity brought by millions of sites or millions of other desktops that are out there. The principal of connectivity goes beyond the people using the machines: It's not just the viewers that are considering each other; a crowd of networked devices is learning to play together.
SOCIAL > An innate human propensity to converse and play has turned networked computing developed for academic and government use into social space. In a little over a decade it has become the primary medium for human engagement, and some strange things are happening as a result. The new scale of connection as the Internet grows allows projects to emerge that are fueled by motives other than commerce. While many of such motives would have little affect in an unconnected human, multiplied by millions they can create things the scale of Wikipedia nearly overnight. Architectures of participation are emerging and, while interfaces are becoming fundamentally social. In the case of many new properties, the social network is of greater value to the participants than the content itself.
MOBILE > As miniaturization and pervasive networks allow us to take the desktop with us, the significance of our Net connections multiply. We are increasingly mobile and socially engaged in a grand flow of ideas and new values. There is also a collision of expectations as devices fuse functionalities and our habits of use rub up against each other: the remote control is the boombox is the telephone is the television. >>

INTIMATE > Mass action is inherent in the operating system: built in is the idea of overcoming the failure of individual parts for collective results. Over-specificity is also worked around, as virtual machines (essentially simulations) allow a computer program to be run on a wide variety of computer types a crucial issue before the concept was implemented in the 1960s by IBM. Thus increasing internal sprawl, multiple layers, padding, and safeguards predicted how networked societies such as ours would function.
Open APIs; Web applications such a Google offers; the abilities of IPV6 to assign as many Internet addresses as there are grains of sand: these are exciting ways to expand the role of the desktop outward. They are also ways of pushing that role deeply inside. The level of convenience these new technologies offer is huge, especially as systems increasingly learn to watch us in our lives and work, and follow our lead to anticipate our needs. The OS will predict and respond to our agenda, but acting like our close friend doesn't necessarily mean that the corporate genii will have our interests at heart.
Mobile desktops give us access to our networks, our tools, our databases, and lets them operate with each other; it also allows them access to us, maybe even without our knowledge. This "always-on" connection penetrates our lives with startling intimacy to which we grow easily accustomed. What was once the desktop has become so close to us that the sensuality of the screen and its icons become personal prostheses. Interface is now one and the same with the device which itself has become icon.
Just like a computer's operating system offers a layer of translation and housekeeping to keep programmers from having to individually consider the 100 million transistors in a CPU, the graphical interface is evolving to help each networked mobile users meaningfully connect with the other 2.8 billion users, harnessing all of that potential for chaos into coherent, actionable information.
> We don't reach out and touch someone; we touch everything and especially devices that respond to our touch. A powerful sense of life grabs us as much as we grab it one step away from being inside of us. The challenges of finding harmonious gestures between humans and these devices is what will dictate the orientation of future interfaces.
:: ea+ja

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