Remember that Microsoft video on our glassy future? Or that one from Corning? Or that one from Toyota? What they all suggest, and assume, is that our rich natural “interface” with the world will steadily wither away as we become more reliant on software mediation. The infinite possibilities of our sense of touch become reduced to a set of scripted gestures.
Former Apple engineer Bret Victor makes a passionate, and nicely illustrated, case that we need to challenge the reigning visions of future computer interfaces, which he sums up as “Pictures Under Glass”:
Pictures Under Glass sacrifice all the tactile richness of working with our hands, offering instead a hokey visual facade. Is that so bad, to dump the tactile for the visual? Try this: close your eyes and tie your shoelaces. No problem at all, right? Now, how well do you think you could tie your shoes if your arm was asleep? Or even if your fingers were numb? When working with our hands, touch does the driving, and vision helps out from the back seat. Pictures Under Glass is an interaction paradigm of permanent numbness. It’s a Novocaine drip to the wrist. It denies our hands what they do best. And yet, it’s the star player in every Vision Of The Future.
As Anne Mangen has argued, in her work on the tactile aspects of reading and writing, we tend to ignore the importance that our sense of touch plays in our intellectual and emotional lives, probably because we are unconscious of the effects. Unfortunately, that makes it easy for us to sacrifice the richness of our tactile sense when we use, or design, computers. We settle for pictures under glass, for numbness.