Friday, February 12, 2010

Windows and Mirrors

The Computer as an Experience
Jessica Vanacore

When reading Windows and Mirrors by Bolter and Gromala, the first few chapters at first seem a bit outdated to me. The concepts of “Text Rain” and the art at SIGGRAPH did not appeal to me, until I put it all into context of the author’s argument. They focus on experience, accessibility, and the interactive design of the technology. In relation to what is discussed in the book, it still seemed obsolete to me, but from where this all derives from is not.

The computer as an experience is somewhat new of a concept to me. The idea of “interaction design, understanding an interface or application not as a series of static screens, but rather as a process of give and take between computer and use,” made complete sense when comparing it to technology advances today (24). What else would explain the significance and popularity of Apple products, including the iPhone, and all of the interactive application technology that has come out of that? As this book was being wrote, designers were understanding this concept that the computer is an experience that will be shared, and needs to have a user friendly, give and take system to be comprehensible and an enjoyed experience. The internet as an experience would explain the popularity of it, and how it has morphed. Social networking sites are all about sharing experiences, whether it’s through video, images, text, or instantaneous updates of all.

The design as a “window” is an almost dangerous way to view the interface of the technology, as the “user forgets about the interface, and the interface becomes transparent” (26). The interface and design for the technology is a bridge for the user, but it should just function as so. When people start forgetting that this is only a design that they are accessing and using, it can become frightening because who is differentiating what is real and what is not real? Will there come a point, especially in Virtual Reality, that a person will not longer be able to tell the difference between a developed design and reality?

The authors support this idea that an interface should not be perfectly transparent, but because they say you must be able to acknowledge the illusion, and enjoy the experience of it. They practically acknowledge as well that technology breaks, and a transparent interface would lead to disaster for the user when it does break (27). A great example of this is cell phone technology, especially blackberry and iPhone. There has come to a point that even I can admit I did not see my phone from what it was- it was transparent to me. So when it stopped functioning, I had no idea what was going on. Same thing for many of my friends with iPhone- their interface has become so tuned to the human being that when their phone breaks, they almost loose a part of themselves.

Shared experience is a basic concept in human communication, and when translating that to the technological medium, it makes a lot more sense on how people interact and use the medium the way they do today. It explains why television programs and news are so interactive, and why everything is shifting to a user centric formula. Giving it more thought, I am surprised this all didn’t happen sooner.

-Jessica Vanacore


  1. what makes transparency dangerous? it's a good point, I just think some more explanation is in order.

  2. Also, this book is not a novel, it's not a work of fiction.

  3. I stand corrected,

    As for transparency being dangerous, what I interpreted from the Windows and Mirrors was that the idea of the interface being transparent would mean that the user would not see it as a design, but rather as the technology itself. The user feels as if there is a direct connection between them and technology. I see the danger in this for people who may not be educated, or younger and older generations that do not see or learn how technology is pieced together. Instead, they view their computer as an actual being with a mind of its own.

    I wish to go into more detail on this in another post.