Impersonal Computing

What I create — be it a blog post, a tweet, a design for a page, or code — is an expression of me and my culture. Sometimes I can clearly see the work of an educated middle-income male p?keh? in something I made:

  • The choice of a photo with a fern suggests a New Zealander.
  • The use of the term “Riparian” implies that I have an education, and that I am more than a little pretentious.
  • All the beige people in a row points towards someone of European extraction.
  • The environmental theme to the text indicates a bleeding-heart liberal.
  • The typeface, Deja Vu Sans, indicates a Linux-user (make of that what you will).

All this, and more, comes across despite me trying to figure out and reflect what other people need and want. I suspect that I generally miss the mark.

I also wonder what cultural baggage our industry has. A lot, I suspect. Personal computing encompasses devices as diverse as workstations, phones and tablets. However, the personal computer has a culture of its own, and this culture will shape both the devices and interfaces that we create to run on them. This leads me to wonder what would an impersonal computer be like. What language would we use? What would we describe? What would devices and interfaces look like? How would groups of people interact with impersonal computers? How would the group be reflected?

There is research on computing in groups (it goes by the awkward term of computer-supported collaborative workware). However, more often than not it is on how individual interact with a group, with heavy emphasis on the individual. GroupServer is a good example of software that reflects this take on a group.

I see glimmers of the impersonal computer. The interfaces to consoles such as the Sony Playstation, Nentendo Wii, Microsoft XBox or Apple TV are often shared by a group, such as friends playing Sing Star. The computational power of televisions have also increased to the point that they connect to networks and display advanced interfaces. But are they the right interfaces for a group? More specific to my day-to-day work, how would GroupServer have to change present groups with a better interface? I have no idea, but thinking is probably a good first step to figuring it out.

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