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<nettime> It looks like you're writing a letter: Microsoft Word
matthew fuller on 5 Sep 2000 15:05:37 -0000


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<nettime> It looks like you're writing a letter: Microsoft Word



It looks like you're writing a letter: Microsoft Word


Matthew Fuller

matt {AT} axia.demon.co.uk





A recent film has one character blown to death at their keyboard.
Underneath the desk they sit at is a bomb controlled by a keystroke
counter.  When the number of taps on the keyboard drops below a certain
number, off goes the explosive.  A real innovation in the switching system
the bomb uses is that it is tied into the grammar check in Microsoft Word.  
The victim is unable to keep tapping away at the same key until help
arrives.  They have to keep composing grammatically correct sentences,
line after line, through the cramp in their fingers.

 Needless to say, knowing this is both a sure wellspring of verbiage and a
scriptwriter's shortcut to bathos, they compose a last letter to their
loved ones.  Eventually though, the agrammaticality of their emotions or
of tiredness sprawls out of even these second guessed finger-tips and as a
green line appears under a patiently panicked phrase, up they go.


This lot is being written with every toolbar visible, every feature
enabled.  One third of the screen, a large one, is taken up with grey
toolbars pocked with icons.  There is a constant clatter of audio feedback
clicking, shuffling and chiming as the user's attention is pulled away
from putting together a piece of writing into the manufacture of the text
as a perfectly primped document.  As you read, understand that these words
are to appear against a background fill effect of white, grey-veined
marble.

Microsoft Word is part of a larger package, Office which contains Excel, a
financial spreadsheet program; Powerpoint, the digitised answer to the
glory of the Over Head Projector; an array of bits and bobs including
low-level code generators for Visual Basic and HTML1 and some stunning
clip art.

If, contra McLuhan, "A society is defined by its amalgamates, not by its
tools"2 then Office is an attempt to pre-empt this amalgamation by not
only providing what rationalist programmers are content to describe merely
as tools but also the paths between them, how they intermix, and the
boundaries and correlations between their different functions, the objects
they work on and the users that they amalgamate with.

All word processing programs exist at the threshold between the public
world of the document and those of the user.  These worlds may be subject
to non-disclosure agreements; readying for publication; hype into new
domains of intensity or dumbness; subject to technical codes of practice
or house style; meeting or skirting round deadlines; weedling or
speeding...  How does Word meet, detour or expand these drives, norms and
codes in writing?

	Like much else, word processing has escaped from its original
centralised, hierarchically positioned place within large organisations
and single-purpose computers3.  It has also stayed put, shifting things
about in the workplace, but also being trained there.  And what it changes
into at work effects how it is used, what it allows to be done, outside of
work.  The work of literary writing and the task of data-entry share the
same conceptual and performative environment, as do the journalist and the
HTML coder.  The history of literacy is full of instances of technologies
of writing taking themselves without consent from structures aimed at
containing them - something which at the same time as it opens things up
instantiates new norms and demands, from reading the bible to the
requirement to complete tax statements. At each new threshold, heresy
and fraud are opened up as possibilities, but at the same time are forced
to operate on one more terrain at once.

	Microsoft Office slots into the
all-you'll-ever-need-for-the-home-office shelf in the software supermarket
with all the placing that only those who own the store can manage.  
There's bound to be some scintillating demographics on exactly who uses
the software and how tucked into the data-storage of some go-gotten
demi-god somewhere on a Seattle corridor laying out exactly how Microsoft
project patterns of work and use for their software, what tools will be
needed to meet the challenges of a new era of productivity.  But these
aren't the clues we have to go on.  What we do have in order to discover
what kind of user is being imagined and put into place is the mountain of
material the program presents.  Since its early versions Word has swollen
like a drowned and drifting cow.  The menu bar has stretched to twelve
items, the number of toolbars to eighteen.  Don a white coat, open a
calculator, multiply these two figures, then cube them and you get a
scientifical idea of the extent of the domain which Word now covers.

According to James Gleick, features are included in Word with, "Little
more purpose than to persuade the trade press to add one more 'Yes' to the
feature-comparison charts that always accompany word-processor roundups"4.  
In Taylorist design, the majority of Computer Human Interface as practised
today, the user or worker or soldier appears only as a subsystem whose
efficiency and therefore profitability can be increased by better designed
tools. Whilst, according to John Hewitt, 'The disappearance of the worker
has, in fact, been an aspect of most design theory since Morris"5 what
this means contemporarily is that the disappearance of the worker is best
achieved by the direct subsumption of all their potentiality within the
apparatus of work.

The volume of features in Word is often represented as a disastrous
excess, but this is excess fitted up as standard.  What draws the user to
the site of their own special disappearance is possibly even the contrary
drive for the disappearance of work in autonomous behaviour as an ideal of
free work:

"We can call someone autonomous when s/he conceives and carries out a
personal project whose goals s/he has invented and whose criteria for
success are not socially predetermined."6

	Gorz's definition of autonomous labour provides a useable rule of
thumb, a workable trope for autonomy which is conflictual and negotiated
rather than its more fantastically 'independent' variant.=20 As a device
it allows us to understand that a program such as Word doesn't deny
autonomous work or the desire for it, but parasites it, corrals and rides
it at the same time as entering into an arrangement of simultaneous
recomposition of scope.

The surplus feature mountain warehoused in your computer is stored against
the possibility of your ever needing it, against the possibility of the
user's self expanding, or changing purpose or data-type. Whilst the ways
which Word is actually used by any one individual or work practice may
only be very narrow sections of its entire capability, like all software
of its kind there is a dramatic break with that area of the Taylorist
model of work which involves strict division of labour in the actual form
of the equipment (this is usually achieved by system management software
and by work practices).

 In comparison to the disappearable production lined individual, here the
worker is expected to encompass and internalise knowledge of the entire
application which replaces it and to be able to roam about, freely
choosing their tools and their job.  The quandary for the self which
Foucault presents:

"How does one govern oneself by performing actions in which one is oneself
the object of those actions, the domain in which they are applied, the
instrument to which they have recourse and the subject which acts"7 is at
once doubled for the self whose actions, object, domain and instrument are
amalgamated with a material-semiotic sensorium - a program - whose
entanglements and interrelations are so multifarious.  (For at least one
accredited philosopher founding an enquiry into word processing the
problem is far worse: "The anxiety of loosing a hold on professional
integrity and sinking into popular culture must be restrained for the sake
of thinking out a phenomenon we are now living through and in which we are
participating."8)

The feature mountain refutes theories of hardware determination of
software at the same time as it makes a full victimising incorporation of
the user into the application laughably implausible.  It is again as an
amalgamate - a subset of those both within and connected to the 'universal
machine' - that it deserves to be worked over.  The threshold that it
composes also incorporate, as well as the obvious economic factors,
compositional articulations produced by: hardware capabilities and
innovation; developments in programming languages and technique - as well
as those of the structuring and organisation of such work; the propensity
of digital technologies to have arranged some form of connection to the
networks.  All of these factors of course intermesh along with the various
corporate instruments used to determine and decide upon their various and
relative importance.


Objects in their place


Word is, with the rest of Office, put together using object oriented
programming.  A program is sectioned up into objects - a unique unchanging
entity within the program complete with definitions of data and operations
which it is permitted to carry out.  Objects can pass messages between one
another as well as being able to make requests on other objects. Objects
have a sense of how data 'behaves', therefore each object is responsible
for checking the validity and 'sensibility' of the data that it is working
with. As a result, programs made using this approach are generally more
flexible in their ability to accommodate a variety of data types and
processes.  The inner workings of the object, and interrelations between
objects, are, as with most programs, hidden from the user.  However, some
inkling of their function can be gathered from what is visible at the
interface and in use - in the division of the tools up into toolbars and
in the various ways in which tools are shown to be able or not able to
work on specific pieces of data.

	The relative reliability of this approach to programming makes it
particularly suitable for constructing programs that are built on version
by version rather than renewed.  Its way of handling different forms of
data and activity thus has to be thoroughly coherent at all stages.  
Crucially for Office, this is what allows objects to be used across
seemingly separate applications. The use of toolbars in Word is not only
predetermined by the inherent qualities of object oriented software but by
Microsoft's approach to using it.  The productive part of the company is
structured into work teams with closely defined domains of expertise and
function responsible for each class of object - for instance, each
toolbar.

The user becomes an object, but at a peculiar position in the hierarchy of
others.  It is excluded from the internal transmission of information, and
instead allocated representations of elements of this information as
interface.  This information is allocated on the basis of how closely it
corresponds to the 'tasks' that users have come into composition with the
software to perform. The screen is divided up into little counters
clustered into groups, each of which is oriented to a particular task.  
Each task may then break down into a hierarchy of sub-tasks or further
specifications as to the description of the task.=20 The closed world of
objects and other objects interrelated according to strict protocols is
visible on screen as changes in data-state or in the mode of the program.  
Further interrogability of the program is denied.  This is not something
specific to Word, and it cannot necessarily be described as problematic
but it does point to a direction in which objects could be developed with
more independence from the tasks they are locked into.  For instance,
there is a strict division between Clip Art and Word Art in Word with the
toolbar of each only able to make changes in brightness and contrast to
the material of the other.  There is an assumption built into toolbars
that they accomplish a certain wholeness in circumscribing the task that
they construct or that is translated by them into the realm of objects.


How are the tasks and the objects that compose them ordered?  Several
tools are present in more than one toolbar, others can only be accessed
several layers deep into menu hierarchies. 'Animated text' for instance, a
function which (whilst unable to be converted into a web documented by
Saving as HTML) makes Netscape's <<blink> tag look classy, allows you to
add a little bit of fairyland to your text with sparkling pixels and
flickering borders.  In order to animate text the user must choose
'Format' from the menu bar, select the option to format 'Fonts', and then
choose the 'Animation' level from the three types of font formatting
available.  To many users it is likely that this option should be so far
down a choice tree that it drops off completely.  Its relative silliness
in the context of a 'serious' work application however makes it a good
example of not only how tasks are ordered, but also in the conventional
attacks on Word and most recent mass-market software for being bloated
with features, what is considered to be either useful or gratuitous.  
Font animation is not available directly from any toolbar, whilst the
ability to specify the font, its point size and whether it is bold, italic
or underlined is deemed to be so necessary that it is included in both the
'Formatting' and 'Ribbon' toolbars.  This of course has serious
implications for the quality of the interface, but also for how Word is
composed as an amalgamate, what forces and drives it is opened up to in
order to shape its prioritisation of various events, tasks, objects,
data-types and uses.

It would be possible to analyse a piece of software on the basis of
procedurally documenting every point which constitutes an event, to record
the points at which we move from one state to another or at which
boundaries are produced to certain behaviours, not merely within modes but
at every level of the software and begin to extrapolate out, following
through, from installation, to licensing agreement, to splash screen and
on into the hierarchy of functions of the actual program, describing at
each point, at each moment that constituted an event, how it functioned as
part of a series of closely interlocking fields such as processor
characteristics, operating systems, models of user behaviour, work
organisation, qualities of certain algorithms, the relative status of
various document or file forms (for instance, the recent half-botched
attempt to incorporate HTML generation), the availability of class
libraries of already written code and more or less densely determinant
ones such as markets, forms of copyright, aesthetic methodologies or
trends and so on.  Equally an application, especially one intent on
sucking all potential functions towards it, can be interrogated on the
basis of those functions which are absent from it.  For instance, which
models of 'work' have informed Word to the extent that the types of text
management that it encompasses have not included such simple features as
automated alphabetical ordering of list items or the ability to produce
combinatorial poetry as easily as 'Word Art'.



H-E-L-L-P


One futile place to resort to for answers to such enquiries would be the
various types of Help that Word places at the disposal of the user.
 There are five forms of help available from the application.  Balloon
Help on the Mac is perhaps the simplest.  On a simple roll-over from the
mouse on a menu item or interface component a speech-bubble appears next
to the cursor to give a short description of its use and function.
 Working on a similar basis, leaving the cursor on any of the tool icons
will simply display the name of a tool.  With these two, most useful
aspects of the Help in Word begin and end.

	The Help menu also provides a link to initiate Explorer (whether
it is your specified preferred browser or not) to open the advice section
of Microsoft's site.  The other major aspect of Help is Microsoft Word
Help.  This is a simple archive of information held together by an index
and hypertextual linkages between different areas of the documentation.  
Whilst it is possible to browse this resource and find information, if you
want specific information it largely helps to already know precisely what
you require help about as the user already has to be able to name the
function in order to describe it to the help's search facility and thus
find the information - especially since Microsoft often appears to use
apparently 'simplified' versions of generally used words - such as 'jumps'
in stead of hyperlinks, both instead of and alongside the more common
term.  Whilst there may be a vast amount of data in the various layers of
Help to edify users with a spare hour or so it is worse then useless to
users who need a particular element of information in order to allow them
to achieve what they want to do straight away.

	Microsoft Word Help is also where you end up if you fall for the
ruse of accepting help from the Office Assistant. Rocking on its heels,
whistling, getting rubik, turning into a filing cabinet, the version for
Apple computers is an economically and cutely animated Mac Plus with
Disney vermin legs.  Windows users get a paperclip.  Rather than offer
actual help, this takes the proposition of the digital assistant, the
low-grade Artificial Intelligence that will in the permanently rained-off
future help the user make those crucial tabulation decisions, but settles
for kewtness over function. The narrow bandwidth of the solely language
based Turing test is side-stepped with animations on the assumption that
if enough body-language is thrown within a rectangle of a few hundred
pixels, users are going to grant it the same assumed high-informational
content that they transferred to jittery Cu-See-Me pornos.  This feigned
step up the evolutionary ladder towards symbiotic intelligence is given up
on a couple of branches down the choice tree when the user actually tries
to get help from the assistant and is dumped back in the disastrous
jargon-swamp of Word Help which is what it automatically cuts to.  Office
Assistant will do a few things off its own bat if you tell it to in
Preferences.  But its subsequent cheery dosing of the user's eyeballs with
timely Tips about using features, the mouse, keyboard shortcuts, means
that to use Word without the winsome little pixie switched firmly off is
to be constantly prodded in the ribs, to have your ears twisted to
attention, to be told off.  School will never end.



Word processing


Sun Microsystems' Scott McNeally, responding to Microsoft's attempt to
wreck the cross-platform capability of Java claimed that they were aiming
at controlling the "Written and spoken language of the digital age"9.  
Java's innovation was in producing a way of leap-frogging operating
systems to develop a form of computing more in tune with networks than
with isolated machines.  Something that all software bound by the desktop
metaphor has yet to do.  McNeally's claim conflates two forms of language
however, the formal and the natural.=20 It rhetorically implies that the
former should have access to the same rights of 'freedom of speech' as the
latter.  In a familiar ploy for U.S. business, Sun plays the underdog to
Microsoft over what was essentially a conflict over whose version of a
standard should prevail.

	However, the two forms of language are becoming increasingly
close. The most obvious similarity is that before being compiled, code
is written text, characters in a row, that is at the same time a
machine. It exists both in a two dimensional and a multidimensional
processual space. This dual quality of a program feeds over into the
machinery of language and suggests that both the language of Word itself
and the kinds of language it machines deserve scrutiny.

Just as freedom of speech is a convenient myth under which something else
entirely can safely be left to occur, the ideal of a word processor is
that it creates an enunciative framework that remains the same whether
what is being written is a love letter or a tax return.=20 What kind of
language is the language of Word?  The nomenclature and organisational
norms of Microsoft Projects is already beginning to effect the way people
think about business reduced to a stuttering sequence of Action Points,
Outcomes and milestones.  Does the compulsorily informal mode of
addressing co-workers that prevails in the Microsoft corporation feed over
into the way it speaks to users and the way it double-guesses the way the
world should begin their letters?


The Templates, sample documents that the user can edit to make their own,
with their repertoire of 'elegant fax', 'contemporary fax' to 'formal
letter' or 'memo', acknowledge that forgery is the basic form of document
produced in the modern office.  The purest manifestation of this so far is
419 Fraud, named after the Nigerian Statute that outlaws it.  419 consists
of tens of thousands of letters, apparently coming from government
officials, company directors, military officers, approaching Western bank
account holders with an incredible offer.  The letters claim an insight
into some impending calamity or coup and requests that the recipient aid
the senders by allowing their bank account to be used to move capital out
of Nigeria in return for a generous commission.  All that is requested is
a simple downpayment.=20 And then another.  A couple more.  The entire
operation is based around faxes and letters, an industrial scale semiotics
of fraud: letterheads, confidentiality, intimations of corrupt generals,
numbers in government departments and corporate headquarters, calls to aid
the world's poor, stranded bank accounts, readily available cynicism with
politics, the ploy of the African simpleton working the racist sucker.  
The believable template, hooked up to the mailing list database is an
economic machine that works all the better, all the more profitably, if it
is fuelled on fraud.

Whilst "In mechanised writing all human beings look the same"10 in the
case of templates the writing itself becomes peripheral to the processing.  
Employment agencies on the net have been found to be advertising
non-existent jobs in order to pull in trade and the appearance of market
share.  Tens of thousands of people respond with their CVs.  For jobs
knocked up by the batchload on a CGI form come a multitude of
self-starting no-dozers with ski-lift productivity profiles as per the
thrilling careers of the templated exemplars that come with the program.


The underlying grammar of the program conforms to that expected within the
standardised proprietary interface.  The menu bar at the top of the screen
provides a list of verbs which can be actioned on the nouns within the
currently active window.  These verbs are put matter-of-factly, as tasks:
File, Edit, View, Insert, Format, Font, Tools, Table, Window, Work, Help.  
There is the same bluntness about the use that the program is primarily
intended to be put in the sub-programs that direct the user to produce
certain kinds of documents with the least amount of fuss:  CV Wizard,
Envelope Wizard, Letter Wizard. These are the modes of writing it makes
easy. Suicide Note Wizard remains uncompleted.  The Autotext toolbar
already sees this easy description begin to fray.  The writer is locked
into the lexical domain of 'Dear Mom and Dad' as much as into 'Dear Sir or
Madam' and 'To Whom it May Concern'.  Mailing instructions and 'Attention'
lines are offered alongside a range of closing phrases ranging from the
formal to the intimate.

Effective human-machine integration required that people and machines be
comprehended in similar terms so that human-machine systems could be
engineered to maximise the performance of both kinds of component11=20
Word has no direct 'interest' in information or communication, but rather
in its facilitation.  It arranges things according to a pragmatics that is
not concerned so much with such as "When I say my mouth is open how do we
know that this is what I have said?", but with sensing and matching every
bit of such possible statements.  The end point of which of course is that
every possible document will be ready for production by the choice of
correct template and the ticking of the necessary thousands of variable
boxes.

	Michael Heim's chapter on 'The Finite Framework of Language' is
particularly good in developing an understanding of this aspect of early
Word Processing. Jargons, metaphors, descriptive leaps, constitute the
visible language of the application something that excites and mobilises
use and exploration of the program.  The language of the program benefits
from, "The ambiguity inherent in natural language which makes possible
words both sufficiently reminiscent of past usages and semantically
precise enough to indicate the new".  This is not quite so much McLuhan's
medial recapitulation of past forms as much as the problem which besets
writers of Hard SF in making their scientific extrapolations of terms and
possibilities believable within currently available nominative frameworks
whilst still amounting a sense of going beyond them.  For both, the prize
is the same:  "As the user learns the new system, the language installs
the user in the system'12 It is at this point that the program comes into
composition with the user through the interface.


Delete as appropriate


In 'Electronic Language' Heim uses Heidegger's term Enframement13 to
describe how the word processing software in effect runs a pre-emptive
totalising macro on language.  It is an understanding of language captured
and made into a world that describes the possibilities for its use and
conceptualisation on behalf of the archetypal user.  However, it is an
enframement that can never be pre-emptive or holistic enough, that is
instead reduced - or turned productively into- the ongoing site of
conflict and transference that is the interface.

The interface is the threshold between the underlying structure of the
program and the user.  As a threshold it contains elements of both. The
accrual of transference from the user, their incorporation, is produced in
the ability to customise, through preferences, through macros, through
autocorrections, user dictionaries, though custom templates, but also
formulated in how users are conjured up as a class with needs that can be
met en masse.

Microsoft Word was one of the first word processor for the PC with a
decent enough graphical user interface.  It made effective use of the
mouse, and indeed actually often gave people a reason to buy one for the
first time.  However, after version 5.1 the program seems clearly to have
made a break with being simply a clean easy to use word processor and
became something else. The constant accrual of new tools and functions by
a software bent on self-perfection means that there are no commands that
will ever die in word, no function will ever be lost.  The Word 5.1
Toolbar is a cognitive fossil, something like a lizard brain crawled back
under the stones of higher consciousness.

Whilst not all of the interface is a disaster - you can play movies in
Word with far less clutter and brushed aluminium than you can in QuickTime
4 for instance, there is no clear sense of why you might want to do this,
and if so, how that reconfigures the program and its previously core
focus, writing.  Whilst it is clear that writing is, under digitisation,
of necessity going to be displaced, it is how this change is produced and
articulated and the clarity and interrogability of the way in which this
is done that determines how well an interface works or not.  Word of
course exists within the context of Office.

 Here, digital writing is not simply subsumed within an uninterrupted
envelope for accessing various medial formations but articulated,
variegated and positioned by the 419 culture of doing business.


If the behaviour of writing was solely being conditioned in this respect
the problematic of why Word's interface is the way it is would be easy to
resolve.  Things are also complicated by the way the software is
programmed.  Alan Cooper suggests that, "Our desktop system has so many
menus and text-based dialogue boxes because all windowing systems...  
...provide pre-written code modules for these functions.=20 Conversely,
none of those systems provide much pre-written code for dragging and
dropping, which is why you see so little direct manipulation.  A dialogue
box can be constructed in six or eight lines of easy, declarative code.  
A drag and drop idiom must be constructed with about 100 lines of very
intricate procedural code.  The choice - for the programmer - is
obvious."14

	The economics of software constricts it so tightly that it is
bound to repeating simply more of its past whilst churning out more, more
faster in order to deal with any perceived competition.  For computer
human interface design as a discipline though, the aesthetics of the
interface is simply a matter of physiology applied, by the spadeful.
Whilst there is the minor problem of which model of human to locate as
being the most relevant to the problem, there are plenty of clip-art
bodies to be downloaded and used from the libraries of Psychology and
Veterinary Science.  The traces of the psychometric, psychophysical,
behaviourist design parameters of the human organism specified in the
computer's originary conceptual infrastructure have in Word been left
behind though in the sheer painful act of concentration it takes to
regurgitate all that fearsome quantity of matter onto the screen.


A grey environment increases egg-production in chickens


The user begins to work.  Everything on screen apart from the actual
contents of the focal window containing the text is lit by a continuous
light from the upper left, an upper left that remains at a constant angle
no matter how far you move something horizontally across the screen:
sunshine? Neon strip.  This is an ultra-shallow three-dimensional world
granted a pixelswidth of shade to demark every seperate element.  When it
appears, the assistant visually addresses the user as if they are slightly
to the right and forward of where it initially appears on screen.  A
perspectival cross-fire is under construction.  The user is always, but
never quite accurately, implicated as the pair of eyes that creates this
by seeing.  Sound feedback is used to confirm that a process has been
completed, an event has occurred.  Perhaps taking their cue from the
promptings of the whirr and tick of keyboards and hard-drives in use
Word's audio-designers have produced a series of snips, shuffles and
chimes. But whilst the program susserates and clicks politely, its sound
is always in deference to a feedback sequence that is initiated and
maintained through visual interaction.


	Word's Graphic User Interface is not simply one unremitting grey
avalanche. The essential dilemna of a computer display is that: "At every
screen are two powerful information-processing capabilities, human and
computer.  Yet all communication between the two must pass through the
low-resolution, narrow-band video display terminal, which chokes off fast,
precise and complex communication"15 Microsoft's answer to this is not
unique but it is one that massively overcompensates for this bottleneck,
rather than try to develop its potential.  In order to create the fastest
possible route between the human and the computer a fast conduit to every
function must be as accessible as possible on the screen:  hence many
icons on many toolbars occupying much of the screen.  The question is not
whether this works, it clearly doesn't.  Users simply remember a few of
the icons that they use regularly and are effectively locked out of the
rest of the program.

	In this respect, Tufte's data-ink ratio formulation might prove
useful if adapted slightly.  The amount of information provided by an
interface can be costed against the amount of pixels in the toolbar that
it changes from the uniform background.  On this reckoning different
toolbars begin to appear to be designed on quite radically different
interface conventions.  The Standard Toolbar is full of 3D images,
representations of real objects, globes, magnifying glasses, cubes and
disks.  There is a wide and variable use of colour (two different
magnifying glasses have different coloured handles for instance) and even
the graphic styles (compare the grey, two-dimensional scissors for 'cut'
to the multicoloured three-dimensional 'paste' brush) contradict one
another.  By comparison the Formatting toolbar is a rather austere grey,
black and blue.  The only 3D is provided by what seems to be a highlighter
pen.

	There is no particular point here in assessing which style
'works', although the latter is far easier on the eyes in terms of
peripheral vision when in use and in terms of reading to find or guess a
particular function - since as the icons are uniform in colour, they do
not suffer from the phenomenon of brightly coloured elements (such as the
arrows on the 'Web Toolbar' icon or the circle on that for 'Drawing')
becoming visually detached from the rest of the shape.  In addition to
this, once more than one toolbar is opened, "The various elements
collected together in flatland interact, creating non-information patterns
and texture simply through their combined presence"16

	The fast conduit from human to computer becomes bottlenecked again
simply by the scale of potential interaction sequences.  A quick way to
cut down on this would be to make sure that as OOP provides a single
identity for an arbitrary set of properties and capacities, no tool
appears in one toolbar if it is already present in another.  This does not
solve the problem however.  It is two-fold: that of the semiotics of icons
and of the continuing spatial organisation of data in a computing
environment that has gone way beyond the capacity of the desktop metaphor
to accommodate.

Iconic languages as used in an extremely limited way in transport
information systems, or as proposed by the universalist anthropology of
Margaret Mead, are always doomed to fail, swamped at best in connotation
or more usually in disinterest.  Word is not of course alone in having too
many icons.  Quark Xpress for instance has an excessive number of picture
box shapes represented on the first level of its toolbar - one would do
fine, the rest being accessible via a drop-menu. To cope with this, icons
in Word are always dependent on several kinds of textual help. Help
becomes necessary solely because of the vast number of icons that are
completely inexplicable.

Within the standard noun / verb grammar of the interface, icons look too
often like nouns rather than triggers for verbs as functions, not only do
their icons and names individually fail to cohere at an isomorphic level,
their relationship to a clearer underlying system is also diminished
without any pay-off in flexibility or scope for developing more
comprehensive, structural rather than scattershot, understanding.


Digital Abundance


Despite the easy suspicion that the vast majority of the 'features' that
Word now encompasses are simply there to persuade male users that they are
not doing work that was previously relegated to female secretaries this is
not to say that there is nothing worth admiring in Word. The sheer,
useless inventive ugliness of the 'Word Art' interface single-handedly
gives the lie to the myth that allowing seperate work-groups within a
project command of what they do comes to nothing but muddle.  Two dialogue
boxes worth of minutely variable options given in fantastically unrelated
swirling technicolour takes some beating.  A common criticism of digital
media is made that it compresses time in order for more work to be
extricated from the user. Word also has the capacity to dilate time, and
in such corners of the program we can see the corporate imaginary of
Microsoft fattening and opening up like some blushing hungry bivalve.

At the same time as the amount of functions have increased, the menu bar
has lengthened and the depth of choice trees has increased.  In addition,
as the tools become more complex, encompassing more functions, they become
more abstract.  That is to say that more and more of the tool's
composition becomes devoted to monitoring and fine-tuning the operation of
the tool. The problem is, (if we are to take this route) in finding a
definition of tool.  Are they metaphors, extensions, something that 'Gives
visible form and physical action to a logical operation'17 The tool
perspective in computer interface design as proposed by Winograd and
Flores is an endless search for a Heideggerian route to technology as a
homing device.  The idea runs that producing a human-centred design
methodology which opposes a tool-based approach to the Death Star of
Cartesianism-Taylorism allows pure form as a manifestation of a concept or
task to be mobilised in the production of interaction design melded with
thoroughly simplicity to the work and thought patterns of its users.