Interface Culture: How the Digital Medium--From Windows to the Web--Changes the Way We Write, Speak

Steven Johnson, Author, Stephen Johnson, Author HarperOne $24 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-251482-0
Readers of Feed--one of the Web's most respected e-magazines--may be disappointed by editor and cofounder Johnson's engaging but superficial analysis of the way personal computers are changing our lives. Half rehash of familiar recent history (e.g., the genesis of the Mac, the Web and computer-generated textual analysis), half paean to the possibilities of interactive design, Johnson's book spends most of its time arguing that computer interfaces are the art form of our age--specifically, that they serve a purpose like that of the great Victorian novels: to help us make sense of an otherwise mind-boggling technological revolution. Unfortunately, this intriguing, poetic analogy remains just that, one of several eye-catching jeux d'esprit in search of a serious claim. Part of the problem is the hyperbole endemic to the field--a weakness to which Johnson is sensitive but susceptible (he criticizes techno-boosters who call the Internet ""the greatest invention since the discovery of fire,"" then writes two pages later that ""the most fertile analogy"" for the digital revolution ""is the invention of perspective in painting""). Whether he compares interface technology to novels, paintings or cathedrals, his comparisons seem to tell more about his own admiration for techno-prophets of the past (heavy hitters like Henry Adams and Walter Benjamin) than they do about the way PCs may actually affect us. Despite his apparent acute eye for the ""look-feel"" of current programs, Johnson seems too close to the PC revolution to explain to us what it means. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
Genre: Nonfiction
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