Some years ago I stumbled upon Bret Victor's Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design. His thoughts stuck with me, as I watched what he calls 'Pictures Under Glass' (i.e touchscreens) become the ubiquitous future he was warning against.
And as someone who worked on the development of the iPad, his lamentation comes from a deep place of understanding. Our hands receive all kinds of feedback from objects in the world. Our fingertips are full of nerve endings to read and respond to this feedback. We developed this sensitivity, over thousands of years, to enable us to use tools and interact with our environments successfully.
Most visions of the future totally deny this sensitivity, instead letting us touch nothing but glass – with no feedback on what we're doing.
They've even made their way into our cars, surely a place where feedback without looking would be advatangeous:
I think Victor's work is some of the most unique and important of our era. His recent talk – 'The Human Representation of Thought' – builds upon some of those earlier ideas to discuss the media we use for thinking, from paper to computers, and argues that we're constraining ourselves to the point of 'inhumanity' with the tools we've settled with.
While we operate with all these eight faculties, our computers really only engage us and allow us to operate on a visual and symbolic level:
Before anyone thought to plot data on a graph, no one could think in terms of mapped data – they were constrained to thinking in tables and raw figures. Since the development of graphic methods for statistical representation, those methods have underpinned all math, science and engineering – it's hard to imagine how we'd think without those externalizations.
So what is the media of the future, a media that stimulates our other faculties, and allows us to think new thoughts?
The talk outlines some mind-warping 40-years-down-the-line concepts:
Here is a recent interview with him, summing up his domain of investigation: The Utopian UI Architect
All this work is a deep inspiration for my own. Victor is fundamentally interested in tools and systems that augment and extend our mental and creative abilities. My research began with a focus on Doug Englebart's ambitions in this space, and I see a direct line from there to Victor's determination to steer us to a more productive – or 'humane' – future.