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Function seems to follow form

I remember some years ago that the graphical environment offered by windowed operating systems seemed an immensely rich and interactive experience. The Windows Icons Menus Pointer (WIMP) model opened up the world of computers to an even more diverse range of users. Even more people who probably didn’t have a real need for computing started using them just because their usage became increasingly accessible.

Interestingly this enjoyable rich experience has since become one we take for granted. We wouldn’t ever dream of going back to a command-line interface for every application (although for some things, a command-line does indeed still make sense). Similarly people focused on the glitz of the world wide web early on in its development, and this again brought more diverse people to become users of computing technology.

However since the initial appeal of these media has faded, we have focused on the functionality of these things in getting our business done. As a result we have become much more impatient with the interfaces we use and less interested in the inner workings of the software itself. Instead of seeing abstract components of an interface we tend to see things literally as what they are supposed to represent.

René Magritte's 'this is not a pipe'

René Magritte's 'this is not a pipe'

This goal-oriented usage of computers has lead to a mostly two-tiered level of understanding amongst users. There are those that see the visual things they are manipulating as exactly what they represent. For them the interaction begins with their direct input put into the system and ends with the output which is generally received instantaneously. Then there are those that are aware of the underlying structures and models that are being manipulated by the software itself in order to carry out their instructions.

This variation in user perspective of computing technology is an interesting area of social differences relating to issues such as software ‘usability’. What is also interesting is the functional manner of usage users will eventually adopt with new technology. It does unfortunately breed a ‘why can’t the computer do a simple task I ask it’ mentality when a user encounters problems with an operation they are trying to perform: even if the operation is in fact actually incredibly complex in terms of the work that is carried out by the ‘computer’ and indeed any networked resources it may utilise.

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