Our Conceptual Dark Age of Man-Machine Interaction

Attention conservation notice: bitter rant about the sorry state of computing.
In this wonderful interview, physicist Carver Mead blasts the Copenhagen clan for their approach to quantum physics.
It's conceptual nonsense. You can calculate stuff with the theory, but the words people put around it don't make any sense. ... Once we lose the conceptual foundations, the whole thing becomes a shell game. There are very few conceptual workers left in the field.
Apple's original masterpiece, the 1984 Macintosh was a highly conceptual work.

It turned computers from beeping boxes with green-on-black screens to instruments the rest of us could use, to create art, music, graphics, etc. A complete sea change.

The classic Mac introduced a whole system of concepts in an intuitive retroactively obvious way:
  • desktop
  • pointer
  • windows
  • icons
  • containment
  • applications
  • documents
  • trash
  • ...
Unfortunately, Mac OS stopped innovating right there in 1984. (Mac OS X basically put new lipstick on an old pig.)

So, the Apple is rotten, and until they once again commit to conceptual development, this dirty old logo will hang upside down here.

(I won't even comment on the iPhone, which would be silly, except to weep a single bitter, loving tear for the Newton OS, the only significant conceptual work since 1984.)

That brings us to... Wave

The Initech references in Wave's documentation need to be taken seriously.

I have a history of criticizing Wave, but only because it is the most blatant example of conceptual nonsense to come out of the windy streets of Silicon Valley in a long time, and that's saying something.

Wave's conceptual contribution is zero. The only thing distinguishing Wave from previous systems is that you can see characters as they are typed. Yeah baby!

To end this rant on a more positive note, here are some concepts and systems that I'd like to see evolved and taken further:
  • hyperlinks and making them more accessible (e.g. hashtags)
  • wiki namespaces (the real innovation behind wikis)
  • extensible key-value metadata on everything (SuperTweets)
  • outliners
  • object-oriented drawings, like Newton did
  • web pipes
  • 2D barcodes
  • content-centric networking
  • a kind of 9P for the web
  • ... your concepts here
As Carver Mead says, Listen to the Technology.


Anonymous said...

Apple's innovation is just to polish something a bit, remove the hard parts and then let their foot soldiers defend against criticism.

I'm not sure why more tech companies can't figure the polish part though.


Also just a plug, if you're a designer or a more aesthetically inclined person and you want to experience or to do "volunteer" work, sourceforge runs a help wanted section that is full of ads from projects hoping that one of you will come along and help them out.

Manuel J. Simoni said...

I'm not sure why more tech companies can't figure the polish part though.

That's a good question. It can't take forever though.

Micah said...

If the only innovations that Apple has made are the list you posted near the top of your article, they have never innovated, since they stole all of those from Xerox.

Apple products have amazing presentations, and I love them, but Apple hasn't really come up with much stuff on their own.