Are Digital Technologies Really So Digital?

// Posted by on 01/31/2012 (7:36 PM)

In February’s issue of Wired, Clive Thompson asks an interesting, but often overlooked question: why are analog interfaces still being used in digital tools? If we have the capability of digital tools, shouldn’t our interfaces also be digital. While skeumorphs (“bits of design that are based on old-fashioned, physical objects”) are effective in some new technologies e.g. the Kindle, they are outdated and rather unnecessary in others, especially calendars.

Unless we start weaning ourselves off [skeuomorphs], we’ll fail to produce digital tools that harness what computers do best.

Thompson argues that there is no reason iCal and Google Calendar should display weeks past when looking at January’s calendar. Instead, both should display what is to come. There is no efficiency is having these calendars display an analog calendar when a digital calendar would be much more pragmatic when trying to plan for the future not the past.

In with the new (& the digital)…

Thompson points out two digital developments that are on the vanguard of the switch to digital interface:

1. Soulver: A calculator for Mac designed by two 18-year-old Australians who wanted to design a less “derivative” calculator. Below is an image of what the pair came up with: a digital calculator that “dummies” can use.


2. Flipboard App: An iOs app used for browsing status updates, pictures & news. The real digital aspect is how the pages flip. Rather than flip like normal ebooks or emagazines with a pivot on the left. The pivot point of the flip for the Flipboard is at the center. Not only is this a more innovatie way for the page to change, it also is easier on the eyes. Thompson explains that the new position of the pivot “minimizes the rate at which material changes onscreen during the flip, reducing eye fatigue that comes from scrolling or making sudden full-page swipes.”



After reading Thompson’s article all I could think of is: why have such changes not occurred sooner? We have developed such advanced technologies in some aspects, but have left other aspects behind. Is it due to some sense of nostalgia of the past and the “old-fashioned” or did we become so excited with the actual new technologies that we forgot about the details? If we have the capabilities to digitize, shouldn’t we?


Click here to see Thompson’s full article in Wired online.

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Cameron said...

Phylicia, after reading your post and the Wired article, there were a couple of thoughts in my head. While there is a comfort in the nostalgia of some of these apps (the rotary phone app looks slow, yet intriguing), many of these applications are simply reproductions of the way things are, or were, rather than being innovative. I begin to wonder, is this a trend that will last or something that will pass with time. Will these apps continue to produce new technologies that simply replicate the way things are or will their innovation be present not only in their technology, but extend to their usage? Will they do more than replicate the present with their new technology, will they produce new calendars, calculators, and more?

// 01/31/2012 at 9:43 pm

Kelsey said...

I honestly don’t see much of a difference between the calculators we have now and the one created by the Australians. I hardly think punching in the numbers and picking up a pen can be considered nostalgia. However, as development in the past has suggested maybe these small tweaks to our current technology will lead to something truly innovative.

// 01/31/2012 at 11:43 pm