It’s been a couple weeks since I finished Steven Johnson’s 1997 book, “Interface.” Though I’d like to say that I’ve been stirred by it’s profoundity enough to be stewing on my own thoughts for a post, the truth is that I haven’t been entirely changed. That isn’t to say that the book is that much out of touch or contains bad ideas. But frankly, it was written 10 years too early. Many of the complaints and questions aroused by the book’s content have been settled or decidedly answered in the decade since it’s first publication.

Though it mentions blogging off-handedly, the book seems to focus a lot on news websites failing to take into account the striking influence and change brought about by community-centered news-sharing. Not to mention the inability to foresee (who could?) the rise of social-centric/web 2.0 news aggregation (read: Digg, Reddit). Of course, it’s hard to fault Johnson. Instead it may have been his musings and insistent resurrection of Mcluhan-like observation that sparked many of the social-tech innovations and cognitive queries seen in the ensuing years.

What’s hard to work through, from my perspective today, is the laborious overtures on long-dead technologies. Microsoft’s Bob is discussed at length over several chapters, though mostly in the context in how its metaphors ultimately fail. Johnson devotes nearly an entire chapter to frames in web-pages. In some ways it’s nice to think we’ve moved so far away from these technologies that to see them discussed in such a serious context is nearly laughable. This of course also begs the question of what will seem old-hat and silly a decade from today?

Johnson writes about The Palace as an example of the coming possibilities (remember ’97) of a graphical chat-like forum. It was fun in this instance to reminisce. I remember bouncing around in The Palace and thinking what a wonderfully, grand experience it was back then when I would have been in High School. What’s sad reading about it now is, of course, how close Johnson was to seeing such a drastic reorganizing of graphical, social networks. I would have loved to read his take on exploring World of Warcraft and Second Life as social-information spaces. Even the explosion of Facebook in recent years seems like a great example of rearranging information space within a social, graphical environment.

In short, while I really enjoy Johnson’s work and his excellent channeling of Mcluhan to critique a medium– even going so far as to adamantly suggest interface should be understood as an artistic medium– it’s timeliness falls short. Such is the problem with writing about technology and culture. A critique written two minutes ago is immediately out of date. Here’s to reading this blog post ten years from now and reminiscing and laughing about how out of date it is. So it goes.

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