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<nettime> Turing Complete User
olia lialina on Sun, 25 Nov 2012 21:05:20 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Turing Complete User

dear nettimers

let me post a part of my new essay about users here.

full version at http://contemporary-home-computing.org/turing-complete-user


Turing Complete User

    "Any error may vitiate the entire output of the device.
    For the recognition and correction of such malfunctions
    intelligent human intervention will in general be
    -- John von Neumann, First Draft of a Report on
    the EDVAC, 1945

    "If you can't blog, tweet! If you can't tweet, like!"
    -- Kim Dotcom, Mr. President, 2012

Invisible and Very Busy

Computers are getting invisible. They shrink and hide. They lurk under
the skin and dissolve in the cloud. We observe the process like an
eclipse of the sun, partly scared, partly overwhelmed. We divide into
camps and fight about advantages and dangers of  The Ubiquitous.  But
whatever side we take -- we do acknowledge the significance of the

With the disappearance of the computer, something else is silently
becoming invisible as well -- the User.  Users are disappearing as
both phenomena and term, and this development is either unnoticed or
accepted as progress -- an evolutionary step.

The notion of  the Invisible User is pushed by influential user
interface designers,  specifically by Don Norman a guru of user
friendly design and long time advocate of invisible computing. He can
be actually called the father of Invisible Computing.

Those who study interaction design read his "Why Interfaces Don't
Work" published in 1990 in which he asked and answered his own
question: "The real problem with the interface is that it is an
interface". What's to be done? "We need to aid the task, not the
interface to the task. The computer of the future should be

It took almost two decades, but the future arrived around five years
ago, when clicking mouse buttons  ceased to be our main input method
and touch and multi-touch technologies hinted at our new emancipation
from hardware. The cosiness of iProducts, as well as breakthroughs in
Augmented Reality (it got mobile), rise of wearables, maturing of all
sorts of tracking (motion, face) and the advancement of projection
technologies erased the visible border between input and output
devices. These developments began to turn our interactions with
computers into pre-computer actions or, as interface designers prefer
to say, "natural" gestures and movements.

Of course computers are still distinguishable and locatable, but they
are no longer something you sit in front of. The forecasts for
invisibility are so optimistic that in 2012 Apple allowed to
themselves to rephrase Norman's predictive statement by putting it in
the present tense and binding it to a particular piece of consumer

    We believe that technology is at its very best when it is
    invisible, when you are conscious only of what you are doing, not
    the device you are doing it with [...] iPad is the perfect
    expression of that idea, it's just this magical pane of glass that
    can become anything you want it to be. It's a more personal
    experience with technology than people have ever had.[2]

In this last sentence, the word "experience" is not an accident,
neither is the word "people".

Invisible computers, or more accurately the illusion of the
computerless, is destroyed if we continue to talk about "user
interfaces". This is why Interface Design starts to rename itself to
Experience Design -- whose primary goal is to  make users forget that
computers and interfaces exist. With Experience Design there is only
you and your emotions to feel, goals to achieve, tasks to complete.

The field is abbreviated as UXD, where X is for eXperience and U is
still for the Users. Wikipedia says Don Norman coined the term UX in
1995. However, in 2012 UX designers avoid to use the U-word in papers
and conference announcements, in order not to remind themselves about
all those clumsy buttons and input devices of the past. Users were for
the interfaces. Experiences, they are for the PEOPLE![3]

In 2008 Don Norman simply ceased to address Users as Users. At an
event sponsored by Adaptive Path, a user interface design company,
Norman stated "One of the horrible words we use is users. I am on a
crusade to get rid of the word 'users'. I would prefer to call them
'people.'"[4] After enjoying the effect of his words on the audience
he added with a charming smile, "We design for people, we don't design
for users."

A noble goal in deed, but only when perceived in the narrow context of
Interface Design. Here, the use of the term "people" emphasizes the
need to follow the user centered in opposition to an implementation
centered paradigm. The use of "people" in this context is a good way
to remind software developers that the User is a human being and needs
to be taken into account in design and validation processes.

But when you read it in a broader context, the denial of the word
"user" in favor of "people" becomes dangerous. Being a User is the
last reminder that there is, whether visible or not, a computer, a
programmed system you use.

In 2011 new media theoretician Lev Manovich also became unhappy about
the word "user". He writes on his blog "For example, how do we call a
person who is interacting with digital media? User? No good."[5]

Well, I can agree that with all the great things we can do with new
media -- various modes of  initiation and participation, multiple
roles we can fill -- that it is a pity to narrow it down to "users",
but this is what it is. Bloggers, artists, podcasters and even trolls
are still users of systems they didn't program. So they (we) are all
the users.

We need to take care of this word because addressing people and not
users hides the existence of  two classes of people -- developers and
users. And if we lose this distinction, users may lose their rights
and the opportunity to protect them. These rights  are  to demand
better software, the ability "to choose none of the above"[6], to
delete your files, to get your files back, to fail epically and, back
to the fundamental one, to  see the computer.

*In other words: the Invisible User is more of an issue than an
Invisible Computer.*

Continued at<http://contemporary-home-computing.org/turing-complete-user/>

[1]: Don Norman, "Why Interfaces Don't Work", in: Brenda Laurel (Ed.),
     The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design, 1990, p. 218

[2]: Apple Inc, Official Apple (New) iPad Trailer, 2012

[3]: Another strong force behind ignoring the term User comes from
     adepts of Gamification. They prefer to address users as gamers.
     But that's another topic.

[4]: Video of the talk:<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgJcUHC3qJ8>

     See also Norman's 2006 essay "Words matter"

     "Psychologists depersonalize the people they study by calling
     them 'subjects.' We depersonalize the people we study by calling
     them 'users.' Both terms are derogatory. They take us away from
     our primary mission: to help people. Power to the people, I say,
     to repurpose an old phrase. People. Human Beings. That's what our
     discipline is really about."

[5]: Lev Manovich, How do you call a person who is interacting with
     digital media?, 2011

[6]: Borrowed from the subtitle "You May Always Choose None of
     the Above" of the chapter "Choice" in: Douglas Rushkoff,
     Program or be Programmed, 2010, p.46

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