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Interface Culture Hardcover – 25 Jun 1997

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: HarperSanFrancisco; First Edition edition (25 Jun. 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062514822
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062514820
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.4 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,357,541 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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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 non-cyber 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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In the fall of 1968 an unprepossessing middle-aged man named Doug Engelbart stood before a motley crowd of mathematicians. Read the first page
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 29 April 1999
Format: Hardcover
Johnson's book, Interface Culture, is about the growing culture of the interface, the way we interact with the world around us. It is based on the nearly invisible premise that we interface with much of the world, and have been for most of our time on this planet. I found this immediately intriguing because some f the hardest things to observe are the interfaces that we sue to connect and interact with the world. Johnson frames his discussion of interface with the elements of computer interface; the desktop, windows, links, text, and agents, all common to those people coming from a computer literate society.
Where Johnson really shines (and I admit a personal bias for the topic) is in his discussion about hypertext and the poor job that silicon valley has done in really pushing it to the limits of it possibility. He presents a picture of an industry that continues to try to bring television to the web (real video, real audio, flash) all attempts to bring movement and animation to a naturally solid state-dynamic environment. The real power of the web is in the link, in the ability of authors and users to "create their own story" - to navigate through the content as they wish, not necessarily how the author intended. Johnson uses Dicken's stories as examples of thinking that incorporates the sense of disparate ideas - all connected into one story - the kind of thinking that Johnson thinks needs to be used to harness the power of the link.
Johnson also takes time to explore the differences between "surfing the web" and "channel surfing", arguing that the two are fundamentally different. He argues that the passive, almost lazy activity of channel surfing actually works against our ability to conceive of the web differently.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 5 Jun. 1998
Format: Hardcover
I've read a lot of these books about cyberculture recently, and Johnson's is one of the best. Positioning itself in neither the camps of "technoboosterism" nor "neo-Luddism," the book is an insightful, informed, and gracefully written history/meditation/prophecy about the evolving nature of "interfaces" as our primary means of inhabiting information society as a culture. Two things about the book stand out for me. One is Johnson's ability to pierce to the core of the notion of "interface" by thinking at a fundamental level about the experience of using such components as "windows," "links," "desktop metaphor," etc. His discussion of these topics is aided by a very judicious, selective look at recent software examples or online paradigms (e.g., his nice discussion of the nature of link discourse on the Suck site). In general, Johnson made me think about these seemingly mundane elements of the "interface" in new, broad ways--technical, social, cultural, and artistic. Secondly, Johnson's penetrating sense of the continuities between current information society and past literary, artistic, and technological societies is a wonder to behold (I enjoyed particularly his comparison of information space to such architectures of the past as the Gothic cathedral or city, and also his excellent comparison/contrast of information space to the 19th-century "connective" novel). He never overdoes the comparisons; I see them as the ballast that accounts for the steadiness of his middle tone between "technoboosterism" and "neo-Luddism." He is not Luddite because he has a strong sense of the evolving, slowly accreting momentum of technical changes and their (sometimes surprising) social reception.Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 30 April 1999
Format: Hardcover
In Interface Culture, Steven Johnson brilliantly brings together technology and the arts to create a work that shows how both effect and reflect on one another. He uses references of Gothic Cathedrals and Leonardo Da Vinci to tout that the role of the interface designer is similar to that of a more traditional artist. Johnson¹s dismantling of the superficially erected barrier between art and technology is quite successful. His book is filled with references to the fine arts and popular culture. He does this by carefully portraying how technology has been used and/or depicted in literature, film and other forms of visual art. By tying together different cultural periods in his analysis of technology, he reveals that the technical types are not always nerds that are solely concerned with cracking computer codes or developing websites. Using the modernist notion of the avant-garde, Johnson calls for the interface designers to step away from the old and into the new. He makes reference to the influence of the camera on modern art. Since the camera depicted reality as it was, there was no longer a reason for art to perform the role of documentation. This appears to be the same rationale that Johnson uses to challenge the role of the interface metaphors on today¹s personal computer. While Johnson does acknowledge that some of the user- friendliness that today¹s interface has to offer will dissipate as it takes on a more artistically and philosophically aesthetic approach, he fails to acknowledge (until the very last sentence of the conclusion) that our own perception of what is and is not user-friendly will change as the years go on. As we have seen in other forms of art, tastes and ways of looking at visual surfaces change and fluctuate as time goes on.Read more ›
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