Analogy of Distraction: Response to Oliver Reichenstein’s iA articles, particularly Improving the Digital Reading Experience

Oliver is very convincing in his dialogues about type design for digital screens, and more specifically digital reading experience on the iPad. He argues that the digital realm is not an extension of the paper as it is ideally an extension of human thought. Paper has set dimensions where as the iPad may be infinite in scale beyond its black frame. The screen is far too different to be treated and handled like a piece of paper and so paper typographers are untrained in designing for the digital realm, and therefore, are doing the digital reading experience no justice. Columns are for paper, not the iPad. A good digital reading experience requires less attention on the design and interaction and more attention to the reading. Fancy design layouts must be sacrificed to create a smoother reading flow, which means less jumping around the screen or site, less distractions, and longer concentration for the user. A topic I find most interesting is brought up in Oliver’s Improving Digital Reading Experience. He brings about the idea of humane functions in computers. He says, “As long as our tools are recognizable as analogies of our body, the form and function of these tools are easily comprehensible.” Just as “text editors are an analogy of type writers, type writers are an analogy of writing with pen and paper, writing with pen and paper is , initially, a substitute for memory.” So, generally, a computer is an extension of our head which controls the tools, and the tools are analogies of analogies. With this said, what happens when the computer does not function as an extension of our minds, when it no longer relates to our physical function? A tool that is analogous to our bodies may empower us, where as a tool that is not, likely is not a tool at all, nor an empowerment. To this regard, social media is a not-tool of a particular relationship. For example, Twitter is a site in which you can select a button to ‘follow’ people, of whom you do and do not know. What is the act of ‘following’ an extension of in relation to our bodies? Perhaps physically following a person to see what they do and where they go? Perhaps even what they are thinking? Does this virtual realm of information allow us to enter peoples minds passively, where we would otherwise need to actively and physically engage in the person in order to retrieve his or her individual thoughts? How does this tool empower ourselves? What is the benefit to knowing what people are doing in their everyday lives whereby in order to do so one must focus and browse through a screen in his or her everyday life, more or less frequent depending how addicted he or she is. Does this not-tool affect the frequency of our physical relationships with people who are physically around us? Does it displace users from their relationship to their physical environments and therefore create a dependency on the ‘tool’, which has no analogous function to the body or mind and therefore is not a tool? If the digital realm typically breaks analogies then it is no lounger a tool but a distraction.