The goal of software, more generally, ought to be to craft coherent mental maps in our mind; just like through exposure we learn to navigate our neighbourhood, or intuit complex grammar rules as a child without ever having to exert serious mental effort. And just as you can chain words together to craft new meaning, digital tools should be able to compose together to create new interfaces.
So while exploring a city lets you discover new places and better understand how to navigate the space around you; and exploring language lets you delve into new meanings and understand how to better translate thoughts into words; exploring software lets us translate those thoughts into action, it has the possibility to unlock entirely new mediums and forms of expression, let us do things we previously thought impossible.
At the heart of both the beauty and danger of computing is the promise of this little device that can do just about anything — as long as this anything can be represented through lots of strings of letters and numbers and lists of things, which, it turns out, is quite a damn lot!
Computers turned out to be so useful in fact, that they’ve seeped into every aspect of our lives, from birth to death and all the little moments in-between that we sometimes call life; you aren’t really you anymore unless you exist in the computer, a digital footprint, our lives broken down into abstractions and numbers. Oh, and they let us make cool spreadsheets, and powerpoint presentations, visualize 4d geometry, play games, compose music, communicate from far away, and express ourselves in every which way — even if your ideal form of expression is posting rude comments to internet strangers. It’s hard, I guess, to capture what computing really means. To me. To all of us. To the world. And well, the impossibility of capturing the infinitely vast space of possibility that computers have opened up to us makes it even harder for me to communicate just how small that possibility space really is.
It is like learning, upon understanding the concept of infinity, that there are different levels of infinity. Bigger infinities. So if I were to look upon computing, the internet, software, every tool, every moment of wonder, every drop of creativity that people channel through their screens, and if I were to say to you dear reader, “this, all this, is only a fraction of what is possible”, then you’ll respond “prove it”, and then I shrug and say “I’m trying” and that’s that.
One of my biggest roadblocks along this journey has been to communicate my vision. Because I often think of writing as a kind of distilled thought, so I ought, then, to be able to distill my thoughts into writing. With such a vision, I can only ever catch glimpses of it — yet my desire is to write about it in its totality. Of course, the answer clearly is to try to capture those glimpses — through both writing and interactive experiments, and to hope that these may build the puzzle pieces of a shared vision, a shared discussion about the future of computing and our place within it. To accept that it is something that can never truly be captured because it is constantly shifting and morphing at the peripheries of our shared imagination.
And so that is what I shall do. Taking up the pen not as a tool for persuasion, but as a mental camera pointed inwards to capture small glimpses of a world which we, hopefully, may build together.
Over the next few months I plan to seriously write, share, and craft tangible experiments to better communicate my vision and test uncertain hypotheses. If this interests you, I recently set up a newsletter that you can follow along with, or you may like to support my work.
And if this essay sparks any ideas or you want to be part of the conversation, feel free to drop me a line by email or via twitter @azlenelza.