© 2013 ellathompson


I’m dedicating an entire post to one point that Manovich discusses in his paper, Database as Symbolic Form.

Manovich considers the linear tendency of new media – that is, a sequence of screens is created as the new media user clicks on icon after icon at each screen. The user is given information “one screen at a time”.

This is what I have found to be my issue with new media technology. I thought about it a while ago. There was something constraining about my computer. I couldn’t quite pinpoint it, but I felt restricted. I realised that it was the scarcity of screen space. Yes, the digital age has overcome the issue of information resource scarcity and all that. But the user is still limited by what they can have ‘up’ at a time.

Think of the screen as the short-term memory storage (and manipulation) base – the zone where we can deal with information. Material is only manipulable when it is ‘open’ on the computer screen, and when the ‘window’ is ‘maximised’. All other material, we can say, is in long-term memory storage. This is how we think when we simultaneously use the computer. What is in front of us is in front of us – in the present, what we must attend to immediately. What is put away for later use is put away for later use – it is hidden from our immediate attention, but we still know we can access it later on.

But our minds don’t want to work like this. One thing at a time is not conducive to productive thinking. We want to be able to deal with multiple things at a time. We want to be able to better connect things in our own understanding.

This is why – at least for me – I’ve found the screen space of a computer to be limiting. For example, when I’m doing work, I’ll want a number of ‘windows’ open – Internet browsers, Word documents, PDF documents, Excel documents – all at once so that I can see the connections between them and be able to develop a cohesive idea of whatever I need to develop a cohesive idea of (rather than having disjoint thoughts due to the disjoint process of obtaining and manipulating knowledge). Alternatively, when I’m just chilling on my computer, I’ll probably want to have Facebook open, a few YouTube things open, email open and maybe even be watching a movie at the same time. Of course, I already try to do this by splitting my screen into halves – for example, Facebook on one side, YouTube on the other. Same when working – Word doc. on one side, whatever I’m reading or researching (PDF or Internet browser) on the other.

It’s even better when there are two screens, like in the editing suites at RMIT. It allows for so much more thinking space. Yes, we think in physical space now. Well, virtual physical space. Since we are thinking onto computers, we are confined in terms of the space that the computer – and the screen – has to offer.

This is where design fiction can come into play. We need screens that are multiple, moveable, malleable. You know those sci-fi videos where you see the characters dealing with projections into the air / space around them that they can move around with a finger? We need those.

My point is that we don’t think in a linear fashion. We think all over the place. And thinking all over the place is – despite the way it sounds – far more constructive than linear thinking. We need newer media that allows us more space to think more efficiently, and work more efficiently. We need more – and different – screens.

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  1. […] (typeof(addthis_share) == "undefined"){ addthis_share = [];}I just read Ella’s THINKING SPACE post and I totally agree. I too have experienced this limited feeling whilst using my laptop. It […]

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