TITLE: Computer as Medium AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: May 14, 2009 9:10 PM DESC: ----- BODY: While waiting for a school convocation to start last night, I was digging through my bag looking for something to read. I came across a print-out of Personal Dynamic Media, which I cited in my entry about Adele Goldberg. I gladly re-re-read it. This extended passage a good explanation of the idea that the digital computer is more than a tool, that it is a medium, and a more powerful medium than any other we humans have created and used:
"Devices" which variously store, retrieve, or manipulate information in the form of messages embedded in a medium have been in existence for thousands of years. People use them to communicate ideas and feelings both to others and back to themselves. Although thinking goes on in one's head, external media serve to materialize thoughts and, through feedback, to augment the actual paths the thinking follows. Methods discovered in one medium provide metaphors which contribute new ways to think about notions in other media.

For most of recorded history, the interactions of humans with their media have been primarily nonconversational and passive in the sense that marks on paper, paint on walls, even "motion" pictures and television, do not change in response to the viewer's wishes. A mathematical formulation -- which may symbolize the essence of an entire universe -- once put down on paper, remains static and requires the reader to expand its possibilities.

Every message is, in one sense or another, a simulation of some idea. It may be representational or abstract. The essence of a medium is very much dependent on the way messages are embedded, changed, and viewed. Although digital computers were originally designed to do arithmetic computation, the ability to simulate the details of any descriptive model means that the computer, viewed as a medium itself, can be all other media if the embedding and viewing methods are sufficiently well provided. Moreover, this new "metamedium" is active -- it can respond to queries and experiments -- so that the messages may involve the learner in a two-way conversation. This property has never been available before except through the medium of an individual teacher. We think the implications are vast and compelling.

I agree. But after reading this paper again all I can think is: No wonder Kay is so disappointed by what we are doing in the world of computing in 2009. Looking at what he, Goldberg, and their team were doing back in the 1970s, with technology that looks so very primitive to us these days -- not only the interactivity of the medium they were creating, but the creations of the people working in the medium, even elementary school students. Even if I think only in terms of how they viewed and created language... We have not done a good job living up to the promise of that work. If you are eager to embrace this promise, perhaps you will be inspired by this passage from the Education in the Digital Age interview I mentioned in Making Language:
Music is in the person.
An instrument amplifies it.
The computer is like that.
How are you using the computer to amplify the music inside of you? What can you do to help the computer amplify what is inside others? -----