From the Philosophy of the Open to the Ideology of the User-Friendly

Below is an excerpt from chapter two, “From the Philosophy of the Open to the Ideology of the User-Friendly,” from my book Reading Writing Interfaces: From the Digital to the Bookbound (University of Minnesota Press 2014). It is also the basis of the talk I gave at MLA in January 2013 and the full version of the talk I gave at Counterpath Press February 2013. As always, I welcome your comments!

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“Knowledge is power: information is the fabric of knowledge; the controller of information wields power.”
–“Some Laws of Personal Computing,”
Byte 1979 (Lewis 191)

“If a system is to serve the creative spirit, it must be entirely comprehensible to a single individual…Any barrier that exists between the user and some part of the system will eventually be a barrier to creative expression. Any part of the system that cannot be changed or that is not sufficiently general is a likely source of impediment.”
–“Design Principles Behind Smalltalk,” Byte 1981(Ingalls 286)

My talk today is concerned with a decade in which we can track the shift from seeing a user-friendly computer as a tool that, through a graphical user interface (GUI), encourages understanding, tinkering, and creativity to seeing a user-friendly computer that uses a GUI to create an efficient work-station for productivity and task-management and the effect of this shift particularly on digital literary production. The turn from computer systems based on the command-line interface to those based on “direct manipulation” interfaces that are iconic or graphical was driven by rhetoric that insisted the GUI, particularly that pioneered by the Apple Macintosh design team, was not just different from the command-line interface but it was naturally better, easier, friendlier. The Macintosh was, as Jean-Louis Gassée (who headed up its development after Steve Jobs’s departure in 1985) writes without any hint of irony, “the third apple,” after the first apple in the Old Testament and the second apple that was Isaac Newton’s, “the one that widens the paths of knowledge leading toward the future.”

Despite studies released since 1985 that clearly demonstrate GUIs are not necessarily better than command-line interfaces in terms of how easy they are to learn and to use, Apple – particularly under Jobs’ leadership – successfully created such a convincing aura of inevitable superiority around the Macintosh GUI that to this day the same “user-friendly” philosophy, paired with the no longer noticed closed architecture, fuels consumers’ religious zeal for Apple products. I have been an avid consumer of Apple products since I owned my first Macintosh Powerbook in 1995; but what concerns me is that ‘user-friendly’ now takes the shape of keeping users steadfastly unaware and uninformed about how their computers, their reading/writing interfaces, work let alone how they shape and determine their access to knowledge and their ability to produce knowledge. As Wendy Chun points out, the user-friendly system is one in which users are, on the one hand, given the ability to “map, to zoom in and out, to manipulate, and to act” but the result is a “seemingly sovereign individual” who is mostly a devoted consumer of ready-made software and ready-made information whose framing and underlying mechanisms we are not privy to.

However, it’s not necessarily the GUI per se that is responsible for the creation of Chun’s “seemingly sovereign individual” but rather a particular philosophy of computing and design underlying a model of the GUI that has become the standard for nearly all interface design. The earliest example of a GUI-like interface whose philosophy is fundamentally different from that of the Macintosh is Douglas Engelbart’s NLS or “oN-Line System” which he began work on in 1962 and famously demonstrated in 1968. While his “interactive, multi-console computer-display system” with keyboard, screen, mouse, and something he called a chord handset is commonly cited as the originator of the GUI, Engelbart wasn’t so much interested in creating a user-friendly machine as he was invested in “augmenting human intellect”. As he first put it in 1962, this augmentation meant “increasing the capability of a man to approach a complex problem situation, to gain comprehension to suit his particular needs, and to derive solutions to problems”. The NLS was not about providing users with ready-made software and tools from which they choose or consume but rather it was about bootstrapping, or “the creation of tools for expert computer users” and providing the means for users to create better tools, or tools better suited for their own individual needs. We can see this emphasis on tool-building and customization that comes out of an augmented intellect in Engelbart’s provision of “view-control” (which allows users to determine how much text they see on the screen as well as the form of that view) and “chains of views” (which allows the user to link related files) in his document editing program.

Underlining the fact that the history of computing is resolutely structured by stops, starts, and ruptures rather than a series of linear firsts, in the year before Engelbart gave his “mother of all demos,” Seymour Papert and Wally Feurzeig began work on a learning-oriented programming language they called ‘Logo’ that was explicitly for children but implicitly for learners of all ages. Throughout the 1970s Papert and his team at MIT conducted research with children in nearby schools as they tried to create a version of Logo that was defined by “modularity, extensibility, interactivity, and flexibility”. At this time, the Apple II was the most popular home computer throughout the late 1970s until the mid-1980s and, given its open architecture, in 1977 Logo licensed a public version for Apple II computers as well as for the less popular Texas Instruments TI 99/4. In 1980, Papert published the decidedly influential Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas in which he makes claims about the power of computers that are startling for a contemporary readership steeped in an utterly different notion of what accessible or user-friendly computing might mean. Describing his vision of “computer-aided instruction” in which “the child programs the computer” rather than one in which the child adapts to the computer or even is taught by the computer, Papert asserts that they thereby “embark on an exploration about how they themselves think…Thinking about thinking turns the child into an epistemologist, an experience not even shared by most adults” (19). And two years later, in a February 1982 issue of Byte magazine, Logo is advertised as a general-purpose tool for thinking with a degree of intellectuality rare for any advertisement: “Logo has often been described as a language for children. It is so, but in the same sense that English is a language for children, a sense that does not preclude its being ALSO a language for poets, scientists, and philosophers”. Moreoever, for Papert thinking about thinking by way of programming happens largely when the user encounters bugs in the system and has to then identify where the bug is to then remove it: “One does not expect anything to work at the first try. One does not judge by standards like ‘right – you get a good grade’ and ‘wrong – you get a bad grade.’ Rather one asks the question: ‘How can I fix it?’ and to fix it one has first to understand what happened in its own terms.” (101) Learning through doing, tinkering, experimentation, trial-and-error is, then, how one comes to have a genuine computer literacy.

In the year after Papert et al began work on Logo and the same year as Engelbart’s NLS demo, Alan Kay also commenced work on the never-realized Dynabook, produced as an “interim Dynabook” in 1972 in the form of the GUI-based Xerox Alto which could also run the Smalltalk language. Kay thereby introduced the notion of “personal dynamic media” for “children of all ages” which “could have the power to handle virtually all of its owner’s information-related needs”. Kay, then, along with Engelbart and Papert, understood very clearly the need for computing to move from the specialized environment of the research lab and into people’s homes by way of a philosophy of the user-friendly oriented toward the flexible production (rather than rigid consumption) of knowledge. It was a realization eventually shared by the broader computing community for, by 1976, Byte magazine was publishing editorials such as “Homebrewery vs the Software Priesthood” declaring that “the movement towards personalized and individualized computing is an important threat to the aura of mystery that has surrounded the computer for its entire history” (90). And more:

The movement of computers into people’s homes makes it important for us personal systems users to focus our efforts toward having computers do what we want them to do rather than what someone else has blessed for us…When computers move into peoples’ homes, it would be most unfortunate if they were merely black boxes whose internal workings remained the exclusive province of the priests…Now it is not necessary that everybody be a programmer, but the potential should be there…(90).

image1from “Homebrewery vs the Software Priesthood,” Byte magazine October 1976

It was precisely the potential for programming or simply novice as well as expert use via an open, extensible, and flexible architecture that Engelbart, Papert and Kay sought to build into their models of the personal computer to ensure that home computers did not become “merely black boxes whose internal workings remained the exclusive province of the priests.” By contrast, as Kay later exhorted his readers in 1977, “imagine having your own self-contained knowledge manipulator in a portable package the size and shape of an ordinary notebook”. Designed to have a keyboard, an NLS-inspired “chord” keyboard, mouse, display, and windows, the Dynabook would allow users to realize Engelbart’s dream of a computing device that gave them the ability to create their own ways to view and manipulate information. Rather than the over-determined post-Macintosh GUI computer which has been designed to pre-empt every user’s possible need with the creation of an over-abundance of ready-made tools such that “those who wish to do something different will have to put in considerable effort,” Kay wanted a machine that was “designed in a way that any owner could mold and channel its power to his own needs…a metamedium, whose content would be a wide range of already-existing and not-yet-invented media” (403). More, Kay understood from reading Marshall McLuhan, that the design of this new metamedium was no small matter for the very use of a medium changes an individual’s, a culture’s, thought patterns. Clearly, he wanted thought patterns to move toward a literacy that involved reading and writing in the new medium instead of the unthinking consumption of ready-made tools, for, crucially, “the ability to ‘read’ a medium means you can access materials and tools created by others. The ability to ‘write’ in a medium means you can generate materials and tools for others. You must have both to be literate”.

While Kay envisioned the GUI-like interface of the Dynabook would play a crucial role in realizing this “metamedium,” the Smalltalk software driving this interface was equally necessary. Its goal was “to provide computer support for the creative spirit in everyone” (286). Not surprisingly, Kay and his collaborators began working intensely with children after the creation of Smalltalk-71. Influenced by developmental psychologist Jean Piaget as well as Kay’s own observation of Papert and his colleagues’ use of Logo in 1968, Smalltalk relied heavily on graphics and animation through one particular incarnation of the GUI: the Windows, Icons, Menus, and Pointers (or WIMP) interface. Kay writes that in the course of observing Papert using Logo in schools, he realized that these were children “doing real programming…”:

  …this encounter finally hit me with what the destiny of personal computing really was going to be. Not a personal dynamic vehicle, as in Engelbart’s metaphor opposed to the IBM “railroads”, but something much more profound: a personal dynamic medium. With a vehicle one could wait until high school and give “drivers ed”, but if it was a medium, it had to extend into the world of childhood (“The Early History” 81).

As long as the emphasis in computing was on learning – especially through making and doing – the target demographic was going to be children and as long as children could use the system, then so too could any adult provided they understood the underlying structure, the how and the why, of the programming language. As Kay astutely points out, “…we make not just to have, but to know. But the having can happen without most of the knowing taking place”. And, as he goes on to point out, designing the Smalltalk user interface shifted the purpose of interface design from “access to functionality” to an “environment in which users learn by doing” (84). And so Smalltalk designers didn’t so much completely reject the notion of readymade software so much as they sought to provide the user with a set of software building blocks from which the user could then combine and/or edit to create their own customized system. Or, as Trygve Reenskaug (a visiting Norwegian computer scientist with the Smalltalk group at Xerox PARC in the late 1970s) put it:

 …the new user of a Smalltalk system is likely to begin by using its ready-made  application systems for writing and illustrating documents, for designing aircraft wings, for doing homework, for searching through old court decisions, for composing music, or whatever. After a while, he may become curious as to how his system works. He should then be able to “open up” the application object on the screen to see its component parts and to find out how they work together (166).

With an emphasis on learning and building through an open architecture, Adele Goldberg – co-developer of Smalltalk along with Alan Kay and author of most of the Smalltalk documentation – describes the Smalltalk programming environment in this special issue of Byte as one that set out to defy that of the conventional software development environment as illustrated in Figure 1 below:

image2

Image by Adele Goldberg contrasting the conventional philosophy of software driven by “wizards” in Figure 1 versus that provided by Smalltalk for the benefit of the programmer/user in Figure 2.

The Taj Mahal in Figure 1 “represents a complete programming environment, which includes the tools for developing programs as well as the language in which the programs are written. The users must walk whatever bridge the programmer builds” (Goldberg 18). Figure 2, by contrast, represents a Taj Mahal in which the “software priest” is transformed into one who merely provides the initial shape of the environment which programmers can then modify by building “application kits” or “subsets of the system whose parts can be used by a nonprogrammer to build a customized version of the application” (18). The user or non-programmer, then, is an active builder in dialogue with the programmer instead of a passive consumer of a pre-determined (and perhaps even over-determined) environment.

At roughly the same time as Kay began work on Smalltalk in the early 1970s, he was also involved with the team of designers working on the NLS-inspired Xerox Alto which was developed in 1973 as, again, an “interim Dynabook” with a three-button mouse, a GUI which worked in conjunction with the desktop metaphor, and ran Smalltalk. While only several thousand non-commercially available Altos were manufactured, it was – as team members Chuck Thacker and Butler Lampson believe – probably the first computer explicitly called a “personal computer” because of its GUI and its network capabilities. By 1981, Xerox had designed and produced a commercially available version of the Alto, called the 8010 Star Information System, which was sold along with Smalltalk-based software. But as Jeff Johnson et al point out, the most important connection between Smalltalk and the Xerox Star lay in the fact that Smalltalk could clearly illustrate the compelling appeal of a graphical display that the user accessed via mouse, overlapping windows, and icons (22).

image3

Screenshot of Xerox Star from Jeff Johnson et al’s “The Xerox Star: A Retrospective.”

However, the significance of the Star is partly the indisputable impact it had on the GUI design of first the Apple Lisa and then the Macintosh; its significance is also in the way in which it was clearly labeled a work-station for “business professionals who handle information” rather than a metamedium or a tool for creating or even thinking about thinking. And in fact, the Star’s interface – which was the first commercially available computer born out of work by Engelbart, Papert and Kay that attempted to satisfy both novice and expert users in providing an open, extensible, flexible environment and that also happened to be graphical – was conflicted at its core. While in some ways the Star was philosophically very much in line with the open thinking of Engelbart, Papert, and Kay, in other ways its philosophy as much as its GUI directly paved the way to the closed architecture and consumption-based design of the Macintosh. Take for example the overall design principles of the Star which were aimed at making the system seem “familiar and friendly.”

Easy                             Hard

concrete                     abstract
visible                         invisible
copying                      creating
choosing                    filling in
recognizing               generating
editing                        programming
interactive                 batch

Star designers also avowed to avoid the characteristics they list on the right while adhering to a schema that exemplifies the characteristics listed on the left. While there’s little doubt that ease-of-use was of central importance to Engelbart, Papert and Kay – often brought about through interactivity and making computer operations and commands visible – the avoidance of “creating,” “generating,” or “programming” couldn’t be further from their vision of the future of computing. At the same time as the Star forecloses on creating, generating, and programming through its highly restrictive set of commands in the name of simplicity, it also wants to promote users’ understanding of the system as a whole – although, again, we can see this particular incarnation of the GUI represents the beginning of a shift toward only a superficial understanding of the system. Without a fully open, flexible, and extensible architecture, the home computer becomes less a tool for learning and creativity and more a tool for simply “handling information.”

By contrast, as I’ll now talk about, the Apple Macintosh was clearly designed for consumers, not creators. It was marketed as a democratizing machine when in fact it was democratizing only insofar as it marked a profound shift in personal computing away from the sort of inside-out know-how one needed to create on an Apple II to the kind of perfunctory know-how one needed to navigate the surface of the Macintosh – one that amounts to the kind of knowledge needed to click this or that button. The Macintosh was democratic only in the manner any kitchen appliance is democratic. That said, Apple’s redefinition of the overall philosophy of personal computing exemplifies just one of many reversals that abound in this ten year period from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s. In relation to the crucial change that took place in the mid-1980s from open, flexible, and extensible computing systems for creativity to ones that were closed, transparent, and task-oriented, the way in which the Apple Macintosh was framed from the time of its release in January 1984 represented a near complete purging of the philosophy promoted by Engelbart, Kay, and Papert. This purging of the recent past took place under the guise of Apple’s version of the user-friendly that, among other things, pitted itself against the supposedly “cryptic,” arcane,” “phosphorescent heap” that was the command-line interface as well as, it was implied, any earlier incarnation of the GUI.

However, it’s important to note that, while the Macintosh philosophy purged much of what had come before, it did in fact emerge from the momentum gathering in other parts of the computing industry which were particularly concerned to define standards for the computer interface. Up to this point, personal computers were remarkably different from each other. Commodore 64 computers, for example, came with both a ‘Commodore’ key that gave the user access to an alternate character set as well as four programmable function keys that, with the shift button, could each be programmed for two different functions. By contrast, Apple II computers came with two programmable function keys and Apple III, IIc and IIe computers came with open-Apple and closed-Apple keys that provided the user with shortcuts to applications such as cut-and-paste or copy (in the same way that the contemporary ‘command’ key functions).

No doubt in response to the difficulties this variability posed to expanding the customer base for personal computers, Byte magazine ran a two-part series in October and November 1982 dedicated to the issue of industry standards by way of an introduction to a proposed uniform interface called the “Human Applications Standard Computer Interface” (or HASCI). Asserting the importance of turning the computer into a “consumer product,” author Chris Rutkowski declares that every computer ought to have a “standard, easy-to-use format” that “approaches one of transparency. The user is able to apply intellect directly to the task; the tool itself seems to disappear” (291, 299-300). Of course, a computer that is easy-to-use is entirely desirable; however, at this point ease-of-use is framed in terms of the disappearance of the tool being used in the name of ‘transparency ‘ – which now means usersfwhi can efficiently accomplish their tasks with the help of a glossy surface that shields them from the depths of the computer instead of the earlier notion of ‘transparency’ which referred to a usesr’s ability to open up the hood of the computer to understand directly its inner workings.

Thus, no doubt in a bid to finally produce a computer that realized these ideas and appealed to consumers who are “drivers, not repairmen,” Apple unveiled the Lisa in June 1983 for nearly $10,000 (that’s $23,000 in 2012 dollars) as a cheaper and more user-friendly version of the Xerox Alto/Star which sold for $16,000 in 1981 (which is about $40,000). At least partly inspired by Larry Tesler’s Xerox PARC 1979 demo of the Star to Steve Jobs, the Lisa used a one-button mouse, overlapping windows, pop-up menus, a clipboard, and a trashcan. As Tesler was adamant to point out in a 1985 article on the “Legacy of the Lisa,” it was “the first product to let you drag [icons] with the mouse, open them by double-clicking, and watch them zoom into overlapping windows” (17). The Lisa, then, moved that much closer to the realization of the dream of transparency with, for example, its mode of double-clicking that attempted to have users develop the quick, physical action of double-clicking that bypasses the intellect through physical habit; more, its staggering two 2048K worth of software and three expansion slots also firmly moved it in the direction of a readymade, closed consumer product and definitively away from the Apple II, which, when it was first released in 1977, came with 16K bytes of code and, again, eight expansion slots.

Expansion slots symbolize the direction that computing was to take from the moment the Lisa was released, followed by the release of the Macintosh in January 1984, to the present day. Jeff Raskin, who originally began the Macintosh project in 1979, and Steve Jobs both believed that hardware expandability was one of the primary obstacles in the way of personal computing having a broader consumer appeal. In short, expansion slots made standardization impossible (partly because software writers needed consistent underlying hardware to produce widely functioning products) whereas what Raskin and Jobs both sought was a system which was an “identical, easy-to-use, low-cost appliance computer.” At this point, customization is no longer in the service of building, creating or learning – it is, instead, for using the computer as one would any home appliance and ideally this customization is only possible through software that the user drops into the computer via disk just as they would a piece of bread into a toaster. Predictably, then, the original plan for the Macintosh had it tightly sealed so that the user was only free to use the peripherals on the outside of the machine. While team-member Burrell Smith managed to convince Jobs to allow him to add in slots for users to expand the machine’s RAM, Macintosh owners were still “sternly informed that only authorized dealers should attempt to open the case. Those flouting this ban were threatened with a potentially lethal electric shock”.

That Apple could successfully gloss over the aggressively closed architecture of the Macintosh while at the same time market it as a democratic computer “for the people” marks just one more remarkable reversal from this period in the history of computing. As is clear in the advertisement below that came out in Newsweek Magazine during the 1984 election cycle, the Macintosh computer was routinely touted as embodying the principle of democracy. While it was certainly more affordable than the Lisa (in that it sold for the substantially lower price of $2495), its closed architecture and lack of flexibility could still easily allow one to claim it represented a decidedly undemocratic turn in personal computing.

Thus, 1984 became the year that Apple’s philosophy of the computer-as-appliance, encased in an aesthetically pleasing exterior, flowered into an ideology. We can partly see how their ideology of the user-friendly came to fruition through their marketing campaign which included a series of magazine ads such as the one below—

image9

Advertisement for the Apple Macintosh from the November/December 1984 issue of Newsweek Magazine.

—along with one of the most well-known TV commercials of the late twentieth century.In the case of the latter, Apple takes full advantage of the powerful resonance still carried by George Orwell’s dystopian, post-World War II novel 1984 by reassuring us in the final lines of the commercial that aired on 22 January 1984 that “On January 24th Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’”

Apple positions Macintosh, then, as a tool for and of democracy while also pitting the Apple philosophy against a (non-existent) ‘other’ (perhaps communist, perhaps IBM or ‘Big Blue’) who is attempting to oppress us with an ideology of bland sameness. Apple’s ideology, then, “saves us” from a vague and fictional, but no less threatening, Orwellian, and nightmarish ideology. As lines of robot-like people, all dressed in identical grey, shapeless clothing march into the opening scene of the commercial, a narrator of this pre-Macintosh nightmare appears on a screen before them in something that appears to be a propaganda film. We hear, spoken fervently, “Today we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives.” And, as Apple’s hammer-thrower then enters the scene, wearing bright red shorts and pursued by soldiers, the narrator of the propaganda film continues:

We have created for the first time in all history a garden of pure ideology, where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests of any contradictory true thoughts. Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death and we will bury them with their own confusion.

And just before the hammer is thrown at the film-screen, causing a bright explosion that stuns the grey-clad viewers, the narrator finally declares, “We shall prevail!” But who exactly is the hammer-thrower-as-underdog fighting against? Who shall prevail – Apple or Big Brother? Who is warring against whom in this scenario and why? In the end, all that matters is that, at this moment, just two days before the official release of the Macintosh, Apple has created a powerful narrative of its unquestionable, even natural superiority over other models of computing that continues well into the twenty-first century. It is an ideology that of course masks itself as such and that is born out of the creation of and then opposition to a fictional, oppressive ideology we users/consumers need to be saved from. In this context, the fervor with which even Macintosh team-members believed in the rightness and goodness of their project is somewhat less surprising as they were quoted in Esquire earnestly declaring, “Very few of us were even thirty years old…We all felt as though we had missed the civil rights movement. We had missed Vietnam. What we had was the Macintosh”.

Even non-fiction accounts of the Macintosh by non-Apple employees could not help but endorse it in as breathless terms as those used by the Macintosh team-members themselves. Steven Levy’s Insanely Great, from 1994, is a document as remarkable for its wholesale endorsement of this new model of personal computing as any of the Macintosh advertisements and guide-books. Recalling his experience seeing a demonstration of a Macintosh in 1983, he writes:

Until that moment, when one said a computer screen “lit up,” some literary license was required…But we were so accustomed to it that we hardly even thought to conceive otherwise. We simply hadn’t seen the light. I saw it that day…By the end of the demonstration, I began to understand that these were things a computer should do. There was a better way (4).

The Macintosh was not simply one of several alternatives – it represented the unquestionably right way for computing. And even at the time of his writing that book, in 1993, he still declares that each time he turns on his Macintosh, he is reminded “of the first light I saw in Cupertino, 1983. It is exhilarating, like the first glimpse of green grass when entering a baseball stadium. I have essentially accessed another world, the place where my information lives. It is a world that one enters without thinking of it…an ephemeral territory perched on the lip of math and firmament” (5). But it is precisely the legacy of the unthinking, invisible nature of the so-called “user-friendly” Macintosh environment that has foreclosed on using computers for creativity and learning and that continues in contemporary multi-touch, gestural, and ubiquitous computing devices such as the iPad and the iPhone whose interfaces are touted as utterly invisible (and so their inner workings are de facto inaccessible).

References

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Chun, Wendy. Programmed Visions: Software and Memory. Boston, MA: MIT Press, 2011.

Engelbart, Douglas. “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework.” in The New Media Reader. Eds. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort. Boston, MA: MIT UP, 2003. 95-108.

—. “Workstation History and the Augmented Knowledge Workshop.” Doug Engelbart Institute. 2008. Web. 3 April 2011.

—, and William English. “A Research Center for Augmenting Human Intellect.” in The New Media Reader. Eds. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort. Boston, MA: MIT UP, 2003. 233-246.

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—, and Adele Goldberg. “Personal Dynamic Media.” in The New Media Reader. Eds. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort. Boston, MA: MIT UP, 2003. 393-409.

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—. “An Introduction to the Human Applications Standard Computer Interface: Part 2: Implementing the HASCI Concept. ” Byte 7:11 (November 1982): 379-390.

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In-Progress Catalog of the MAL’s Holdings

With heartfelt thanks to my research assistant Caitlin Purdy and to Kyle Bickoff, a graduate student here at CU Boulder, the Media Archaeology Lab now has a nearly complete catalog of all its holdings. The catalog is clearly still a work-in-progress and, other than the just the organizational challenges in the document itself, the next step for the MAL is a web-based, searchable catalog. Still, hopefully the list below at least gives researchers a sense of what they can find in the lab. We also haven’t quite worked out a system for documenting material from particular donors and integrating this information into the main body of the catalog – at the moment, items from our most recent donors (Timothy Sweeney and Robert Craig) are listed separately toward the end of the catalog.

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DOWNLOAD A PDF OF THE MAL CATALOG HERE.

Print Material
8-Bit Digital Sound Studio: User’s Guide. N.p.: Great Valley Products, Inc., 1992. Print.

Abernethy, Ken, T. Ray Nanney, and Hayden Porter. Exploring Macintosh: Concepts in Visually Oriented Computing. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1989. Print.

ALLC Bulletin 13.3 (1985). Print.

ALLC Bulletin 9.2 (1981). Print.

ALLC Bulletin 9.1 (1981). Print.

ALLC Bulletin 6.2 (1978). Print.

ALLC Bulletin 6.3 (1978). Print.

ALLC Bulletin 4.2 (1976). Print.

ALLC Bulletin 4.3 (1976). Print.

ALLC Bulletin 8.1 (1980). Print.

ALLC Bulletin 8.3 (1981). Print.

ALLC Bulletin 7.1 (1979). Print.

ALLC Bulletin 7.2 (1979). Print.

ALLC Journal 1.1 (1980). Print.

ALLC Journal 2.1 (1981). Print.

Apple II: DOS User’s Manual. Cupertino: Apple Computers, Inc., 1982. Print.

Apple II: Quick File II. Cupertino: Apple Computer, Inc., 1982. Print.

Apple II Reference Manual. Cupertino: Apple Computer Inc, 1981. Print.

Apple II Utilities Guide. Cupertino: Apple Computer, Inc., 1981. Print.

Applesoft BASIC Programmer’s Reference Manual. Cupertino: Apple Computer, Inc., 1982. Print.

Berkowitz, Rob. Inside the Macintosh Communications Toolbox. Ed. Scott Smith and Becky Reece. Cupertino: Apple Computer, Inc., 1991. Print.

De Jong, Marvin L. Apple II Assembly Language. Indianapolis: Howard W. Sams & Co, Inc, 1982. Print.

The Einstein MemoryTrainer User Guide. Los Angeles: The Einstein Corporation, 1983. Print.

Englebardt, Stanley L. The Worlds of Science: Cybernetics. New York: Pyramid, 1962. Print.

Finkel, LeRoy, and Jerald R. Brown. Apple Basic: Data File Programming. N.p.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1982. Print. Self Teaching Guide.

Frenzel, Louis E., Jr. Crash Course in Microcomputers. Indianapolis: Howard W. Sams & Co Inc, 1980. Print.

Gateley, Wilson Y., and Gary G. Bitter. Basic for Beginners. N.p.: McGraw Book Company, 1970. Print.

Grammer, Virginia Carter, and E. Paul. Goldenberg. The Terrapin Logo Language for the AppleII. Ed. Mark Eckenwiler and Peter Von Mertens. Cambridge: Terrapin, Inc., 1982. Print.

Inside Macintosh. Vol. VI. Cupertino: Apple Computer, Inc., 1991. Print.

Inside Macintosh. Vol. V. Cupertino: Apple Computer, Inc., 1986. Print.

Inside Macintosh. Vol. IV. Cupertino: Apple Computer, Inc., 1985. Print.

Inside Macintosh. Vol. III. Cupertino: Apple Computer, Inc., 1985. Print.

Inside Macintosh. Vol. II. Cupertino: Apple Computer, Inc., 1985. Print.

Inside Macintosh. Vol. I. Cupertino: Apple Computer, Inc., 1985. Print.

Introduction, Complier, Editor. Cary: SAS Institute Inc., 1993. Print. Vol. 1 of SAS/C Development System User’s Guide.

Jenngs, Edward M. Science and Literature. Garden City: Anchor, 1970. Print.

Literary & Linguistic Computing 4.2 (1989). Print.

Literary & Linguistic Computing 5.1 (1990). Print.

Literary & Linguistic Computing 2.3 (1987). Print.

Literary & Linguistic Computing 3.3 (1988). Print.

Literary & Linguistic Computing 3.2 (1988). Print.

Literary & Linguistic Computing 4.4 (1989). Print.

Literary & Linguistic Computing 4.1 (1989). Print.

Luebbert, William F. What’s Where in the Apple: A Complete Guide to the Apple Computer. Amherst: Micro Ink, 1982. Print.

Luedtke, Peter, and Rainer Luedtke. Your First Business Computer. Bedford: Digital Equipment Corporation, 1983. Print. The Desktop Computer Series.

Macintosh Manual. Cupertino: Apple Computer, Inc., 1984. Print.

Micromodem Smartcom I: Owner’s Manual. Norcross: Hayes Microcomputer Products, 1983. Print.

Parikka, Jussi. What Is Media Archaeology? Cambridge: Polity, 2012. Print.

PC World 1.2 (1983). Print.

PC World 1.1 (1983). Print.

PC World 1.4 (1983). Print.

PC World 1.3 (1983). Print.

Perspectives in Computing 2.1 (1982). Print.

Perspectives in Computing 1.4 (1981). Print.

Perspectives in Computing 1.2 (1981). Print.

Perspectives in Computing 1.1 (1981). Print.

Ratliff, Wayne. dBASE II: Assembly Language Relational Database Management System. Culver City: Ratliff Software Production, Inc., 1982. Print.

Schneider, Ben Ross, Jr. Travels in Computerland. N.p.: Addison-Wesley, 1974. Print.

Smith, George W. Computers and Human Language. London: Oxford University, 1991. Print.

Smith, Jon M. Scientific Analysis on the Pocket Calculator. N.p.: John Wiley & Sons, 1975. Print.

Snell, Barbara M. Translating and the Computer. N.p.: North-Holland, 1979. Print.

Sobel, Robert. IBM: Colossus in Transition. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1981. Print.

Texas Instruments TI-99/4A Computer: Beginner’s BASIC. N.p.: Texas Instruments, 1979. Print.

Texas Instruments TI-99/4A Computer: User’s Reference Guide. Texas Instruments Incorporated ed. N.p.: Texas Instruments, 1979. Print.

Texas Instruments TI-99/4 Home Computer: TI Extended BASIC. Dallas: Texas Instruments, 1981. Print.

Tindall, Peggy Cagle, and Michel Boillot. Transparency Masters to Accompany Developing Computer Skills Using Appleworks. St. Paul: West Publishing Company, 1991. Print.

Tucker, Allen B., Jr. Text Processing: Algorithms, Languages, and Applications. New York: Academic, 1979. Print.

Turkle, Sherry. The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984. Print.

Volume III. Cupertino: Apple Computer, Inc., 1985. Print.

Wesson, Robert B. Perfect Calc User’s Guide. Berkeley: Perfect Software, Inc., 1982. Print.

Worley, Steven P. Essence: A Library of Algorithmic Textures for Imagine. N.p.: Apex Software, 1992. Print.

Zielinski, Siegfried. Deep Time of the Media. Cambridge: MIT, 2006. Print.

– – -, ed. Neapolitan Affairs: On Deep Time Relations of Arts, Sciences and Technologies. London: Quay Brothers, 2011. Print. Vol. 49 of Variantology 5.

– – -. On Deep Time Relations of Arts, Sciences, and Technologies. Oberhausen: Printmanagement Plitt, 206. Print. Vol. 35 of Variantology.

– – -, ed. On Deep Time Relations of Arts, Sciences and Technologies In the Arabic-Islamic World and Beyond. Oberhausen: Printmanagement Plitt, 2010. Print. Vol. 45 of Variantology 4.

– – -, ed. On Deep Time Relations of Arts, Sciences, Technologies In China and Elsewhere. Oberhausen: Printmanagement Plitt, 2008. Print. Vol. 37 of Variantology 3.

Software/Games
The Adams Family. Ocean Software Limited, 1992. Cassette. Commodore 64 Game

Agent USA. Jefferson City: Tom Snyder Productions, Inc. Inc., 1984. Cassette.

American Football. Argus Press Software Group, 1984. Cassette. Commodore 64 Game.

Applications Software. Dallas: Texas Instruments Inc., 1981. Cassette. System Unknown.

AwardWare. Plantation: Hi Tech Expressions, 1986. Floppy disc. System Unknown.

Beagle Bros Apple II Software. St. Clair Shores: Beagle Bros, 1992. Floppy disc. for Apple II Software

The Blues Brothers. Titus Software, 1991. Cassette. Commodore 64 Game

Castle Master. The Hit Squad, 1990. CD-ROM. Amiga Game

Certificate Maker. Springboard Stoftware, Inc., 1986. Floppy disc. For Apple II+, Apple IIe, Apple IIc.

Cluedo. Leisure Genius, 1984. Cassette. Commodore 64 Game.

Command Module. Dallas: Texas Instruments, 1979. Floppy disc.

Dollars and Sense. Inglewood: Monogram, 1983. Floppy disc. For Apple IIc

Electric Canyon This Land Is Your Land. Geneva: Polarware. Floppy Disk.. For Apple IIc

Electric Crayon ABCs. Geneva: Polarware, Inc. Floppy disc. For Apple IIc

EPYX Action. EPYX Inc., 1989. Cassette. Commodore 64 Game

Fleet System 2+. Needham: Professional Software, Inc., 1987. Floppy disc. For Commodore 64.

Interdictor Pilot. Supersoft, 1984. Cassette. System Unknown.

King’s Quest II: Romancing the Throne. Sierra, 1987. Floppy Disk. For Amiga.

King’s Quest III: To Heir is Human. Sierra, 1987. Floppy Disk. For Amiga.

Macintosh XL MacWorks XL. Cupertino: Apple Computer, Inc., 1984. Floppy disc. For Macintosh.

Maps and Globes: Latitude and Longitude. Mahwah: Troll Associates. Floppy disc. System Unknown.

Max Headroom. Quickstiva. Cassette. Commodore 64 Game (only 1 of 2 disks present)

Megaworks. San Diego: Megahaus. Floppy disc. For Apple IIc and Apple IIe.

Mitchell, Philip. Sherlock. Melbourne House Publishers, 1984. CD-ROM. Commodore 64 Game

My Label Maker. Menlo Park: MySoftwareCo. Floppy disc. System Unknown.

The News Room. Minneapolis: Springboard Software, Inc., 1986. CD-ROM. For Apple II+, Apple IIe, Apple Iic

Police Quest 1. Sierra. 1992. Floppy Disk. For Amiga.

Police Quest 2. Sierra. 1992. Floppy Disk. For Amiga.

Police Quest 3. Sierra. 1993. Floppy Disk. For Amiga.

Pinpoint. Oakland: Pinpoint, 1985. Floppy Disk. For Apple IIc, Apple IIe.

The Story so Far Compilation Pack: Volume 4. Elite, 1989. Cassette. Commodore 64 Games

Time Out Desk Tools II. San Diego: Beagle Bros, Inc., 1988. Floppy disc. For Apple II.

Back Room Inventory
Smith Corona grey typewriter

Smith Corona blue typewriter

Wollensak 3M tape recorder model 2820; labeled “CU ENGLISH DEPARTMENT” and CU 91218

Panasonic portable CD player model SL-SX320 w/ headphones attached

Sony Radio Cassette Player model WM-FX197

1 Nintendo Entertainment System; Model Number: NES-001; FCC ID: BMC9BENINTENDOETS; Serial Number: N11551290

2 Nintendo Controllers ; Model Number: NES-004

1 Nintendo Zapper; Model Number: NES-005

26 Nintendo Games:

1943: The Battle of Midway, 1985                 

 Battletoads. 1985

Blastermaster, 1985

Blades of Steel, 1985

 Contra, 1985

 Double Dragon, 1985

 Double Dragon II: The Revenge, 1985

Dracula’s Curse, 1985

Dragon Warrior, 1985

 Duck Tales, 1985

Excitebike, 1985

 From Russia with Fun, 1985

Jackal, 1985

 Megaman 2, 1985

 Mega Man 3, 1985

Metroid, 1985

 Punch-out, 1985

 Skate or Die, 1985

 Super Dodge Ball, 1985

 Super Mario Bros: Duck Hunt. 1985

 Super Mario Bros. 2, 1985

Super Mario Bros. 3, 1985

The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants, 1985

 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, 1985

 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game, 1985

 Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, 1985

Front Room Inventory
1 Apple IIe Computer

1 AppleColor Composite Monitor; Model Number: A2M6020; Serial Number: S; FCC ID: BCG90QNA2M6020

1 Keyboard; Model Number: A2S2128; Serial Number: E02210ZAS2128; FCDD ID: BCG6DSA2S2128

1 Apple 5.25 Drive; Model Number: A9M0107; Serial Number: KGU9861

1 Mouse; Model Number: M0100; Serial Number: 0435A11E00185

1 KoalaPad+; FCC ID: CN475EPAD001

1 Macintosh Lisa

1 Monitor; Model Number: A6S0200; Serial Number: A4284080

1 Keyboard; Model Number: A6MB101; Serial Number: 1061595

1 Mouse; Model Number: M0100; Serial Number: G512M010001909

1 Box of Imation 2DD, 720KB

1 Apple IIc

1 Monitor; Model Number: G090H; Serial Number: T077678; FCC: BCG966MNTR2CG090H

1 Keyboard; Model Number: A2S4000; FCC ID: BCG9GRA2S4000; Serial Number: F609608A2S4000

1 Mouse; Serial Number: M528M010005151; Model Number: M0100

1 Disk IIc; Model Number: A2M4050; Serial Number: F301954; FCC ID: BC69Z6A2M4050

1 Macintosh Centris 610

1 Monitor (Macintosh 12” RGB Display); Family Number: M1296

1 Apple Desktop Bus Mouse; Family Number: G5431

1 Keyboard; Model Number: M2980; FCC ID: BCGM2980

1 Apple iMac G3

1 Apple USB Keyboard; Model Number: M2452; Serial Number: NK8470XUADL2

1 Apple USB Mouse; Model Number: M4848

1 iMac G4

1 Pro Keyboard; Model Number: M7803; Serial Number: M7803

1 Pair of speakers

1 Macintosh Portable; Model Number: M5120; FCC ID: BCGM5120

1 Macintosh PowerBook 165; Model Number: M4440; FCC ID: BCGM4440

1 Apple MacBook Air; Serial Number: W882609UY5G

1 Apple iBook G4; Model Number: A1054

1 Apple iBook G3; Family Number: M2453; Serial Number: UV949322H6Q

1 IBM Portable Personal Compuer (no ID numbers)

1 COMPAQ Portable III; Model Number: 2660; FCC ID: CNT75M2660; Serial Number: CNT75M2660

1 COMPAQ Portable; Model Number: 2670; FCC ID: CNT75M5401; Serial Number: 1848HN3H0355

1 NeXTcube

1 NeXT Computer; Part Number: 23.00; Model Number: N1000; Serial Number: AAK0004152;

1 NeXT Keyboard; Part Number: 193; Serial Number: AAF 1532557

1 NeXT MegaPixel Display Monitor; Model Number: N400OA; Part Number: 1403; Serial Number: AAA 7026704

1 NeXT Mouse; Model Number: N400A; Part Number: 193; Serial Number: AAF 1532557

1 IBM 5151

1 IBM Keyboard (No ID Numbers)

1 IBM Personal Computer Display; Model Number: 5151; Serial Number: 0889756; FCC ID: AN08ZA5151

1 IBM Personal Computer; Model Number: 5151; Serial Number: 0889756; FCC ID: AN08ZA5151

1 Commodore Amiga 500

1 Commodore Keyboard; Model Number: A500; Serial Number: CA1112119; FCC ID: BR98YV-B52

1 Amiga Monitor; FCC ID: AG19XA-1080

1 SMITH ENG. Vectrex

1 Vectrex; Model Number: 3000; Serial Number: 142309A

1 Vectrex Arcade System (No ID Numbers)

1 VectrexLIGHTPEN (No ID Numbers)

1 Commodore 64

1 Commodore C2N Cassette; Serial Number: 2951548; FCC ID: BR99VMC2N-A

1 Gemstick (No ID Numbers)

1 Commodore 64 Keyboard; Model Number 64; Serial Number: P00961638;FCC ID: P00961638

1 Commodore Monitor; Model Number: 1084S-P; Serial Number: 181231

1 Commodore Single Drive Floppy Disk; Model Number: 1541; Serial Number: BA1A73536; FCC ID:  BR98DD-1541

1 KAYPRO II

1 KAYPRO II Keyboard

Storage Room
7 Commodore Keyboards; Model Number 64; FCC ID: BR98YV-64

1-    Serial Number: P00571266

2-    Serial Number: P01201694

3-    Serial Number: P00194582

4-    Serial Number: P00523783

5-    Serial Number: P5069951

6-    Serial Number: P00667703

7-    Serial Number: P5206846 (damaged)

6 Commodore Single Drive Floppy Model 1541; FCC ID: BR978H1541

1-    Serial Number: BA1C15223

2-    Serial Number: BA1C37290

3-    Serial Number: AJ1A64384

4-    Serial Number: BB1015068

5-    Serial Number: AB1308436

6-    Serial Number: JA1066169

3 Commodore C2N Cassettes; FCC ID: BR99VMC2N-A

1-    Serial Number: 2644906

2-    Serial Number: 2244157

3-    Serial Number: 2201862

2 Commodore Datassettes; FCC ID: BR99VMC2N-A

4-    Serial Number: 372569

5-    Serial Number:1419210

1 Maxim Computer Cassette Unit; Model Number: PM-C16

5 Apple II Disk; FCC ID: BCG9GRDISKII; Model Number: A2M0003

1-    Serial Number: 2147209

2-    Serial Number: 1131734

3-    Serial Number: 813903

4-    Serial Number: 429981

5-    Serial Number: 484451

Donations from Timothy P. Sweeney
1 Startfight Joystick

2 paddle joysticks

2 ATARI electrical cords

1 Atari joystick and STICKSTAND

1 ATARI 400, 16K

Model?# G 16K 441 2137

Serial? # 175 AVO43273-16 10/23 L4 (text ripped off sticker)

1 ATARI 410 Program Recorder

Model# T33589

Serial # 44862

1 ATARI 1050 Disk Drive DOS 3 (with powercord)

Serial # 7VDFF 23960 494

1 ATARI 800 XL

Serial #166528

1 SWITCH BOX CAO10112

Games
Ms. PAC-MAN, Atari Cartridge

MUSIC COMPOSER, ATARI CXL4007, Cartridge

EASTERN FRONT (1941): Computer Strategy Game, ATARI RX8039, Cartridge

BASIC COMPUTING LANGUAGE, ATARI CXL4002, Cartridge

PAC-MAN Computer Game, ATARI CXL4022, Cartridge

SUPER BREAKOUT Computer Games, ATARI CXL4006, Cartridge

Cribbage & Dominoes, for ATARI 400/800

Cassette

Instruction Manual

Sky Writer, ATARI Cartridge

DELTA DRAWING Learning Program, for ATARI 400/800/ALL X LS

Cartridge

Advertising insert for Spinnaker Software

Owners Manual

KICKBACK, for ATARI 400/800

Cartridge

Instruction manual

Flight Landing Simulator, Main Street Publishing, for Atari

5.25″ floppy

Instruction sheet

Microsailing, Main Street Publishing, for Atari

5.25″ floppy

CardWare: Animated Birthday Greeting Disk And All Occasion Card Maker, Commodore ATARI Flip Disk. C64/128 and ATARI 400/800

1 5.25″ floppy

Productivity Software/Blank Floppies/Cassettes
AtariLab starter set with temperature module. a science series for Atari computers. developed by Dickinson College. Atari Inc., 1983.

Owners manual

AtariLab Interface

AtariLab Thermometer

AtariLab temperature module cartridge

SynTrend: Graphing, Statistical Analysis & Forecasting, Atari

published by Synapse, copyright 1983

Owers manual

2 5.25″ floppies

SynFile+: The Ultimate Filing System, Atari

published by Synapse, copyright 1983

Owers manual

1 5.25″ floppies

SynCalc: Advanced Electronic Spreadsheet

published by Synapse, copyright 1983

Owers manual

2 5.25″ floppies

1 Blank Cassette, “Channel Master”

1 5.25″ Floppy, labelled “ATARI DOS 2.05 Single Density Working Disk”, DataTech 1D, Single Side/Double Density

1 5.25″ Floppy, labelled “DOS 3.0″, DataTech 1D, Single Side/Double Density

1 5.25” Floppy, labelled “Homemade PGMS”, DataTech 1D, Single Side/Double Density

SUITCASE Font and Desk Acessory Liberation (for Apple Macintosh)

1 3.25″ floppy

Copyright 1987 Software Supply

Manuals
ATARI Disk Operating System Reference Manual, DOS 3, Atari Inc., 1983.

ATARI Service Contract: Low Cost Protection For Your Atari Home Computer, Atari Inc., 1983.

An Introduction to the ATARI Disk Operating System, DOS 3. Atari Inc., 1983.

ATARI 1050 Disk Drive Owner’s Guide, Atari Inc., 1983.

ATARI 1050 Disk Drive: An Introduction to the ATARI Disk Operating System, Atari Inc., 1983.

[pamphlet] THE ATARI 400 COMPUTER SYSTEM. COMPUTERS FOR THE PEOPLE. ATARI INC., 1981.

THE ATARI 400 COMPUTER SYSTEM: THE BASIC COMPUTER OWNER’S GUIDE. ATARI INC., 1981.

ATARI BASIC Reference Guide. Atari Inc., 1983.

[photocopied manual in white binder] ATARI BASIC. by Bob Albrecht, Le Roy Finkel, and Jerald R. Brown. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1979.

THE BIG BROTHER THESAURUS. Deneba Software, 1988. no floppy.

FileMaker 4: Setting the Data Management Standard. Nashoba Systems. For Apple Macintosh. 1983.

HyperCard Quick Reference Guide. Apple Computer.

HyperCard: Installation and new features. 1998, Apple Computer.

Write Now 4: POWER Word Processing For the Macintosh. 1993, WordStar International.

HyperCard 2.0 Script Language Guide. 1989, Apple Computer.

Ashton-Tate Learning Full Impact. Owners Manual. 1990, Ashton-Tate Corporation.

MAC PAC ’88 $110 in rebate coupons on these leading products. Envelope with coupons enclosed.

The ATARI 800XL Home Computer Owners Guide. 1983, Atari Inc.

Scram Computer Program: A Nuclear Power Plant Simulation. Atari 400/800. (no cartridge)

Magazines
10 Start Programs, from Family Computing. By Joey Lattimer. For Apple, Atari, Commodore 64 and VIC-20, TI, TIMEX, and TRS-80. 1983.

Family Computing: The Lure of Fantasy and Adventure Games. 1:2 (October 1983).

Family Computing: Preschool Computing: What’s Too Young? 1:3 (November 1983).

Family Computing: A Guide to Word Processing by Peter McWilliams. 1:4 (December 1983).

Family Computing: Computing Fun in the Sun. 2:1 (January 1984).

Family Computing: Computing and Careers. 2:4 (April 1984).

Family Computing: More Power for the Home. 3:11 (November 1985).

The Best of Family Computing Programs by Joey Latimer. 1985.  Scholastic Inc.

Family Computing: Improve Your Job: Put Your Computer To Work at Home. 4:2 (February 1986).

Family Computing: Earn Money With Your Computer. 4:5 (May 1986).

Family Computing: Buyer’s Guide to Computers. 4:6 (June 1986).

Family Computing: Writing With Computers Part 1: How to Find the Right Word Processor for Your Needs. 4:8 (August 1986).

GPX Atari Program Exchange. Software Catalog Spring Edition 1982. User-Written Software for ATARI Home Computer Systems.

GPX Atari Program Exchange. Software Catalog Summer Edition 1982. User-Written Software for ATARI Home Computer Systems.

GPX Atari Program Exchange. Software Catalog Fall Edition 1982. User-Written Software for ATARI Home Computer Systems.

GPX Atari Program Exchange. Software Catalog Winter Edition 1982-1983. User-Written Software for ATARI Home Computer Systems.

Antic: The ATARI Resource. Communications special issue. 1:2 (June 1982).

Antic: The ATARI Resource. Printers special issue. 1:3 (August 1982).

ATARI SPECIAL ADDITIONS. Volume 1 Winter 1982. Catalog of Additional Products for your Atari Home Computer.

The ATARI Connection. 2:1 (Spring 1982). A New World of Information.

The ATARI Connection. 2:4 (Winter 1982). How to Introduce Your Child to a Home Computer.

The ATARI Connection Spring 1983. Debut: Atari 1200XL Home Computer

 Donations from Robert Craig
1 Zenith Monitor for use with the Osborne computer

Model # ZVM-121

Chasis: 12MB15X

Service # ZVM-121   I5T?? (text unclear because ink is bleeding/fading)

Serial # 4045726

1 Osborne I with attached keyboard and power cable.

Date of purchase: 12/3/1082

Serial No. NA003113

Media
Osborne I User’s Reference Guide (Print)

Pub. 2/22/1982

Osborne User’s Guide – Applications and Programming (Print)

Copyright 1983

Media Master Plus Application – 5.5in Floppy

This two program package includes

Disk-to-disk format conversion software

ZP/EM 8-bit Emulation for MS-DOS

Booklet for Microlink computer program for the Osborne

Guidebook for “dBase II Assembly Language – Database Management System Version 23b”

Manual Revision 1.C 12

12/10/83

For use on the Osborne I

3 Binders

JRT Pascal User’s Guide

185 pages detailing common problems and their solutions for the JRT implementation of the Pascal programming language.

FOG Volumes III and IV

The First Osborne Group’s Monthly CP/M publications, from Vol III No. 8 (May 1984) to Vol IV No. 12 (September 1985)

FOG Volumes V and VI (and parts of VII)

The First Osborne Group’s Monthly CP/M publications, from Vol V No. 1 (October 1985) to Vol VII No.6 (March 1988)

Various Pamphlets/Guidebooks on

82 Space Raiders

Instructions for “Eliza” – Osborne I Version

Ozzy-Man User Instructions

Retail Advertisement/Order form for Portable Software, Inc’s Games, Applications, and             Hardware Accessories

Key-Wiz ver 1.01

Gramatik Manual

The Double Density Upgrade for the Osborne one Computer “S/N AA50016um”

The 80 Column Upgrade “S/N BB06912”

Installation Procedure for Osborne Fan Assembly

EXMON external monitor adapter Instructions

Various Hardware for the Osborne I

Replacement back panel/handle attachement

Two screwdrivers – 1 Phillips, 1 specialty hexagonal shape

Two unknown Transistor-like replacement pieces, both 16 prong.  Condition and use unknown

One converter, RCA to 20 prong system – possibly for use to convert video outputs

One 24 pronged replacement device

One Two pronged connector replacement piece

1 box of assorted 5.5 in Floppy disks (Some homemade, some purchased)

SS/SD Disk R/O Version 11

FOG – Starter.001

FOG – Starter.002

CPM.010 #1 of 2

CPM.010 #2 of 2

DU Disk Utility, Modem Program, Wash Utility

Grammatik

Addict Pack Disks 1-4

Portable Software Family Pack

Eliza Version 3.0 Microsoft BASIC-80 Version

Robot Gladiators

DBASE II Tutor Disks 1-6

DBASE II disk

DBASE II Zip

DBASE II Sample Data files

JRT Pascal Ver 3.0 Disks 1-3

Key-Wiz Sort-Wiz

Osborne CP/M System

Osborne CP/M Utility

Osborne Wordstar/Mailmerge

Osborne Micro Link

Osborn CBASIC/MBASIC

Supercalc

“Reading Writing Interfaces” Book Project Description

Reading Writing Interfaces: From the Digital to the Bookbound
(forthcoming University of Minnesota Press, 2014)

Reading Writing Interfaces: From the Digital to the Bookbound

Reading Writing Interfaces: From the Digital to the Bookbound

Table of Contents:
Introduction

Chapter 1: Indistinguishable From Magic | Invisible Interfaces and Digital Literature as Demystifier

1.0 Introduction | Invisible, Imperceptible, Inoperable
1.1 Natural, Organic, Invisible
1.2 The iPad | “a truly magical and revolutionary product”
1.3 From Videoplace to iOS | A Brief History of Creativity through Multitouch
1.4 iPoems
1.5 Making the Invisible Visible | Hacking, Glitch, Defamiliarization in Digital Literature

Chapter 2: From the Philosophy of the Open to the Ideology of the User-Friendly

2.0 Introduction | Digging to Denaturalize
2.1 Open, Extensible, Flexible | NLS, Logo, Smalltalk
2.2 Writing as Tinkering | The Apple II and bpNichol, Geof Huth, Paul Zelevansky
2.3 Closed, Transparent, Task-oriented | The Apple Macintosh

Chapter 3: Typewriter Concrete Poetry and Activist Media Poetics

3.0 Introduction | Analog Hacktivism
3.1 The Poetics of a McLuhanesque Media Archaeology
3.2 Literary D.I.Y. and Concrete Poetry
3.3 From Clean to Dirty Concrete
3.4 bpNichol, Dom Sylvester Houédard, Steve McCaffery

Chapter 4: The Fascicle as Process and Product

4.0 Introduction | Against a Receding Present
4.1 My Digital Dickinson
4.2 The Digital/Dickinson Poem as Antidote to the Interface-Free
4.3 The Digital/Dickinson Poem as Thinkertoy

Chapter 5: Postscript | The Googlization of Literature

5.0 Introduction | Readingwriting
5.1 Computer-generated Writing and the Neutrality of the Machine
5.2 “And so they came to inhabit the realm of the very unimaginary”

Works Cited

Overview:
Just as the increasing ubiquity and significance of digital media have provoked us to revisit the book as a technology, they have introduced concepts that, retroactively, we can productively apply to older media. Interface, a digital-born concept, is such an example. Reading Writing Interfaces: From the Bookbound to the Digital probes how interfaces have acted as a defining threshold between reader/writer and writing itself across several key techno-literary contexts. As I outline in the chapter summaries below, my book describes, largely through original archival research, ruptures in present and past media environments that expose how certain literary engagements with screen- and print-based technologies transform reading/writing practices. To borrow from Jussi Parikka’s What Is Meda Archaeology? (2012), my book “thinks” media archaeologically as its analyses undulate from present to past media environments. More specifically, I lay bare the way in which poets in particular – from the contemporary Jason Nelson and Judd Morrissey back to Emily Dickinson – work with and against interfaces across various media to undermine the assumed transparency of conventional reading and writing practices. My book, then, is a crucial contribution to the fields of media studies/digital humanities and poetry/poetics in its development of a media poetics which frames literary production as ineluctably involved in a critical engagement with the limits and possibilities of writing media.

My book works back through media history, probing poetry’s response to crucial moments in the development of digital and analog interfaces. That is, the book chapters move from the present moment to the past, each also using a particular historical moment to understand the present: Reading Writing Interfaces begins with digital poetry’s challenge to the alleged invisibility of multitouch in the early 21st century, moves to poets’ engagement with the transition from the late 1960s’ emphasis on openness and creativity in computing to the 1980s’ ideology of the user-friendly Graphical User Interface, to poetic experiments with the strictures of the typewriter in the 1960s and 1970s, and finally to Emily Dickinson’s use of the fascicle as a way to challenge the coherence of the book in the mid to late 19th century. Thus, throughout, I demonstrate how a certain thread of experimental poetry has always been engaged with questioning the media by which it is made and through which it is consumed. At each point in this non-linear history, I describe how this lineage of poetry undermines the prevailing philosophies of particular media ecology and so reveals to us, in our present moment, the creative limits and possibilities built into our contemporary technologies. By the time I return once again to the present moment in the post-script via the foregoing four techno-literary ruptures, I have made visible a longstanding conflict between those who would deny us access to fundamental tools of creative production and those who work to undermine these foreclosures on creativity. In many ways, then, my book reveals the strong political engagement driving a tradition of experimental poetry and argues for poetry’s importance in the digital age.

The underlying methodology of Reading Writing Interfaces is the burgeoning field of media archaeology. Media archaeology does not seek to reveal the present as an inevitable consequence of the past but instead looks to describe it as one possibility generated out of a heterogeneous past. Also at the heart of media archaeology is an on-going struggle to keep alive what Siegfried Zielinski calls “variantology” – the discovery of “individual variations” in the use or abuse of media, especially those variations that defy the ever-increasing trend toward “standardization and uniformity among the competing electronic and digital technologies.” Following Zielinski, I uncover a non-linear and non-teleological series of media phenomena – or ruptures – as a way to avoid reinstating a model of media history that tends toward narratives of progress and generally ignores neglected, failed, or dead media. That said, following on the debates in the field of digital humanities about the connection of theory and praxis (the so-called “more hack, less yack” debate) my book is more about doing than theorizing media archaeology; it considers these ruptures at the intersection of key writing technologies and responses by poets whose practice is at the limit of these technologies. Crucially, no books on or identified with media archaeology have engaged thoroughly with the literary and none have consistently engaged with poetry in particular; thus my book is also an innovation in the field in that it uses this methodology to read poetry by way of interface.

Chapter Summaries:
One of the most recent and well-known unveilings of an “interface-free interface” came in 2006 when research scientist Jeff Han introduced a 36-inch wide computing screen which allows the user to perform almost any computer-driven operation through multi-touch sensing. Han describes this interface as “completely intuitive . . . there’s no instruction manual, the interface just sort of disappears.” However, the interface does not disappear but rather, through a sleight-of-hand, deceives the user into believing there is no interface at all. I use this anecdote to open the introduction to Reading Writing Interfaces, first, as a way to illustrate the current trend in interface design which emphasizes usability at the expense of providing access to the underlying workings of interfaces, which in turn defines the limits and possibilities of creative expression. And second, I use the anecdote to begin a theoretical and historical overview of the notion of interface, particularly as it has played out in the computing industry in the last forty years. The definition of ‘interface’ I settle on throughout my book is one I adopt from Alexander Galloway to mean a technology, whether book- or screen-based, that acts as a threshold between reader and writing that also subtly delimits both the reading and writing process. This nuanced and yet expansive definition makes way for an acknowledgement of the decisive back-and-forth play that occurs between human and machine and it also broadens our conventional notions of interface to include a range of writing interfaces such as the command-line, the typewriter, or even the fascicle. In light of Reading Writing Interfaces‘ dual attention to media studies and poetry/poetics, I close the introduction with discussions of these two fields as they influence this project. I situate the book within media archaeology, which I take as my methodology, and explain how its emphasis on a non-teleological unearthing of uses/abuses of media allows me to proceed through my media history in reverse chronological order as I uncover media ruptures from the present through to the past. Finally, I conclude the introduction by pairing media archaeology with the notion of ‘media poetics’ as a way to account for poets’ activist engagement with the creative limits and possibilities of media.

The first chapter, titled “Indisinguishable From Magic: Invisible Interfaces and their Demystification,” thus begins with the present moment. Here I argue that contemporary writers such as Young-Hae Chang, Judd Morrissey, Jason Nelson, and Jörg Piringer advance a 21st century media poetics by producing digital poems which are deliberately difficult to navigate or whose interfaces are anything but user-friendly. For example, Morrissey and Nelson create interfaces that frustrate us because they seek to defamiliarize the interfaces we no longer notice; it is a literary strategy akin to Viktor Schklovksy’s early twentieth century invocation of ‘defamiliarization’ to describe the purpose of poetic language – except here it is deployed to force us to re-see interfaces of the present. I argue it is precisely against a troubling move toward invisibility in digital computing interfaces that Judd Morrissey has created texts such as “The Jew’s Daughter” – a work in which readers are invited to click on hyperlinks embedded in the narrative text, links which do not lead anywhere so much as they unpredictably change some portion of the text before our eyes. The result of our attempts to navigate such a frustrating interface, structured as it is by hyperlinks we believe ought to lead us somewhere, is that the interface of the Web come into view once again. Likewise working against the clean, supposedly transparent interface of the Web, in “game, game, game and again game” Jason Nelson creates a game-poem in which he self-consciously embraces a hand-drawn, hand-written aesthetic while deliberately undoing poetic and videogame conventions through a nonsensical point-system and mechanisms that ensure the player neither accumulates points nor “wins.” At the heart, then, of the most provocative digital poems lies a thoroughgoing engagement with difficulty or even failure. By hacking, breaking, or simply making access to interfaces trying, these writers work against the ways in which these interfaces are becoming increasingly invisible even while these same interfaces also increasingly define what and how we read/write. In this chapter I also pay particular attention to how writers such as Jörg Piringer are creating poetry “apps” which work against the grain of the multitouch interface that has been popularized by Apple’s iPad – a device that perfectly exemplifies the ways in which the interface-free interface places restrictions on creative expression in the name of an ideology, more than a philosophy, of the user-friendly.

The second chapter, “From the Philosophy of the Open to the Ideology of the User-Friendly,” uncovers the shift from the late 1960s to the early 1980s that made way for those very interfaces I discuss in chapter one which are touted as utterly invisible. Based on original archival research I undertook of historically important computing magazines such as Byte, Computer, and Macworld as well as handbooks published by Apple Inc. and Xerox, I bring to light the philosophies driving debates in the tech industry about interface and the consequences of the move from the command-line interface in the early 1980s to the first mainstream windows-based interface introduced by Apple in the mid-1980s. I argue that the move from a philosophy of computing based on a belief in the importance of open and extensible hardware to the broad adoption of the supposedly user-friendly Graphical User Interface, or the use of a keyboard/screen/mouse in conjunction with windows, fundamentally changed the computing landscape and inaugurated an era in which users have little or no comprehension of the digital computer as a medium. Thus, media poetics prior to the release of the Apple Macintosh in 1984 mostly takes the form of experimentation with computers such as the Apple IIe that at the time were new to writers. Digital poetry from the early 1980s by bpNichol, Geof Huth, and Paul Zelevansky does not work to make the command-line or Apple IIe interface visible so much as it openly plays with and tentatively tests the parameters of the personal computer as a still-new writing technology. This kind of open experimentation almost entirely disappeared for a number of years as Apple Macintosh’s design innovations and their marketing made open computer architecture and the command-line interface obsolete and GUIs pervasive.

In the third chapter, “Typewriter Concrete Poetry and Activist Media Poetics,” I delve into the era from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s in which poets, working heavily under the influence of Marshall McLuhan and before the widespread adoption of the personal computer, sought to create concrete poetry as a way to experiment with the limits and possibilities of the typewriter. These poems – particularly those by the Canadian writers bpNichol and Steve McCaffery and the English Benedictine monk Dom Sylvester Houédard – often deliberately court the media noise of the typewriter as a way to draw attention to the typewriter-as-interface. As such, when Andrew Lloyd writes in the 1972 collection Typewriter Poems that “a typewriter is a poem. A poem is not a typewriter,” he gestures to the ways in which poets enact a media-analysis of the typewriter via writing as they cleverly undo stereotypical assumptions about the typewriter itself: a poem written on a typewriter is not merely a series of words delivered via a mechanical writing device and, for that matter, neither is the typewriter merely a mechanical writing device. Instead, these poems express and enact a poetics of the remarkably varied material specificities of the typewriter as a particular kind of mechanical writing interface that necessarily inflects both how and what one writes. Further, since they are about their making as much as they are about their reading/viewing, if we read these concrete poems in relation to Marshall McLuhan’s unique pairing of literary studies with media studies – a pairing which is also his unique contribution to media archaeology avant la lettre – we can again reimagine formally experimental poetry and poetics as engaged with media studies and even with hacking reading/writing interfaces. Further, this chapter also draws on archival research to uncover not only the influence of McLuhan on concrete poetry but – for the first time – to delineate concrete poetry’s influence on those writings by McLuhan that are now foundational to media studies.

In the fourth chapter, “The Fascicle as Process and Product,” I read digital poems into and out of Emily Dickinson’s use of the fascicle; I assert the fascicle is a writing interface that is both process and product from a past that is becoming ever more distant the more enmeshed in the digital we become and the more the book becomes a fetishized object. Otherwise put, her fascicles, as much as the later-twentieth century digital computers and the mid-twentieth century typewriters I discuss in chapters two and three, are now slowly but surely revealing themselves as a kind of interface that defines the nature of reading as much as writing. More, extending certain tenets of media archaeology I touch on above, I read the digital into and out of Dickinson’s fascicles as a way to enrich our understanding of her work. Such a reading is a self-conscious exploitation of the terminology and theoretical framing of the present moment which – given the ubiquity of terms that describe digital culture such as ‘interface,’ ‘network,’ ‘link,’ etc. or even of such now commonly understood terms such as ‘bookmark’ and ‘archive’ which previously were only used by the bookish or the literary scholar – is so steeped in the digital and which, often without our knowing, saturates our language and habits of thought.

Finally, in chapter five, the postscript to Reading Writing Interfaces, “The Googlization of Literature,” I focus on the interface of the search engine, particularly Google’s, to describe one of conceptual writing’s unique contributions to contemporary poetry/poetics and media studies. Building on the 20th century’s computer-generated texts, conceptual writing gives us a poetics perfectly appropriate for our current cultural moment in that it implicitly acknowledges we are living not just in an era of the search engine algorithm but in an era of what Siva Vaidhyanathan calls “The Googlization of Everything.” When we search for data on the Web we are no longer “searching” – instead, we are “Googling.” But conceptual writers such as Bill Kennedy, Darren Wershler, and Tan Lin who experiment with/on Google are not simply pointing to its ubiquity – they are also implicitly questioning how it works, how it generates the results it does, and so how it sells ourselves back to us. Such writing is an acknowledgement of the materiality of language in the digital that goes deeper than a recognition of the material size, shape, sound, texture of letters and words that characterizes much of twentieth-century bookbound, experimental poetry practices. These writers take us beyond the 20th century avant garde’s interest in the verbal/vocal/visual aspect of materiality to urge us instead to attend to the materiality of 21st century digital language production. They ask, what happens when we appropriate the role of Google for our own purposes rather than Google’s? What happens when we wrest Google from itself and instead use it not only to find out things about us as a culture but to find out what Google is finding out about us? “The Googlization of Literature,” then, concludes Reading Writing Interfaces by providing an even more wide-ranging sense of poetry’s response to the interface-free.

MLA 2013 Special Session: Reading the Invisible and Unwanted in Old & New Media

[February 2013: I’ve posted an extended version of my MLA 2013 paper here.]

Below is the description for the MLA ’13 special session panel that Paul Benzon, Mark Sample, Zach Whalen, and I will present on in January. We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to pursue together issues related to Media Archaeology.

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Media studies is growing increasingly visible within the broader disciplines of literary and cultural studies, with several critical approaches bringing valuable shape and context to the field. Prominent among these approaches is a turn away from media studies’ longstanding fixation upon the new or the innovative as the most urgent and deserving site of study. Drawing on methodologies as diverse as book history, media archaeology, and videogame studies, this work on earlier media technologies has forged provocative connections between past and present contexts that hinge upon disjuncture and nonlinearity as often as upon continuity and teleology. At the same time, an increased attention to the material particulars of inscription, storage, circulation, and reception has developed the field beyond an early focus on narrative and representation.

New media scholars now look beyond screen-based media, to a broader range of technologies and sites of inquiry. This panel seeks to consider unseen, lost, or unwanted histories of writing/media. Each of the panelists focuses on a particular technology that is not only invisible to the broad history of media technology, but also relies upon loss and invisibility for its very functionality. In keeping with this dual valence, our emphasis on loss and invisibility is intended to raise questions aimed at our specific objects of analysis, but also at the deeper historical and disciplinary questions that these objects speak to: how does our understanding of media technology change when we draw attention to objects and processes that are designed to be invisible, out of view, concealed within the machine, or otherwise beyond the realm of unaided human perception? What happens when we examine the technological, social, and ideological assumptions bound up with that invisibility? How does privileging invisibility shed new light on materiality, authorship, interface, and other central critical questions within media studies?

The vexing relationship between invisibility and transparency is addressed head-on in Lori Emerson’s paper, “Apple Macintosh and the Ideology of the User-Friendly.” Emerson suggests that the “user-friendly” graphical user interface (GUI) that was introduced via the Apple Macintosh in 1984 was–and still is–driven by an ideology that celebrates an invisible interface instead of offering users transparent access to the framing mechanisms of the interface as well as the underlying flow of information. Emerson asserts this particular philosophy of the user-friendly was a response to earlier models of home computers which were less interested in providing ready-made tools through an invisible interface and more invested in educating users and providing them with the means for tool-building. Thus, the Apple Macintosh model of the GUI is clearly related to contemporary interfaces that utterly disguise the ways in which they delimit not only our access to information but also what and how we read/write.

A desire to renew critical attention on the most taken-for-granted aspect of computer writing and reading is at the heart of Zach Whalen’s paper, “OCR and the Vestigial Aesthetics of Machine Vision.” Whalen examines the origins of the technology that allows machines to read and process alphanumeric characters. While graceful typography is said to work best when it is not noticed–in other words, when hidden in plain sight–early OCR fonts had to become less hidden in order to make their text available for machine processing. Whalen focuses on the OCR-A font and the contributions of OCR engineer Jacob Rabinow, who argued on behalf of ugly machine-readable type that (although historically and technically contingent) its intrinsically artificial geometry could become its own aesthetic signifier.

The condensation and invisibility of textual information is taken up by Paul Benzon in his paper, “Lost in Plain Sight: Microdot Technology and the Compression of Reading.” Benzon uses the analog technology of the microdot, in which an image of a standard page of text is reduced to the size of a period, as a framework to consider questions of textual and visual materiality in new media. Benzon’s discussion focuses on the work of microdot inventor Emanuel Goldberg, who in the fifties worked alongside and in competition with the engineer Vannevar Bush, a seminal figure for new media studies. Benzon transforms the disregarded history of textual storage present in Goldberg’s work into a counter-narrative to the more hegemonic ideology of hypertext that has dominated new media studies.

Turning to an entirely invisible process that we can only know by its product, Mark Sample considers the meaning of machine-generated randomness in electronic literature and videogames in his paper, “An Account of Randomness in Literary Computing.” While new media critics have looked at randomness as a narrative or literary device, Sample explores the nature of randomness at the machine level, exposing the process itself by which random numbers are generated. Sample shows how early attempts at mechanical random number generation grew out of the Cold War, and then how later writers and game designers relied on software commands like RND (in BASIC), which seemingly simplified the generation of random numbers, but which in fact were rooted in–and constrained by–the particular hardware of the machine itself.

These four papers share a common impulse, which is to imagine alternate or supplementary media histories that intervene into existing scholarly discussions. By focusing on these forgotten and unseen dimensions, we seek to complicate and enrich the ways in which literary scholars understand the role of technologies of textual production within contemporary practices of reading and writing. With timed talks of 12 minutes each, the session sets aside a considerable amount of time for discussion. This panel will build on a growing conversation among MLA members interested in theoretically inflected yet materially specific work on media technologies, and it will also appeal to a broad cross-section of the MLA membership, including textual scholars, digital humanists, literary historians, electronic literature critics, and science and technology theorists.

From the Philosophy of the Open to the Ideology of the User-Friendly

Since I’ve been posting bits and pieces here from or on my book project, Reading Writing Interfaces, I wanted to also post what I’ve been thinking through in the third chapter “From the Philosophy of the Open to the Ideology of the User-Friendly.” Below is the introductory section for the chapter in which I outline my interest in the shift from a philosophy of the open, flexible and extensible to the closed environment of the “user-friendly” Macintosh which continues to influence the shape of contemporary computing.

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“Compared to the phosphorescent garbage heap of DOS – an intimidating jumble of letters and commands – the world one entered into when flicking on a Macintosh was a clean, well-lit room, populated by wry objects, yet none so jarring that it threatened one’s comforting sense of place. It welcomed your work.” (Levy 157)


In the Old Testament there was the
first apple, the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, which with one taste sent Adam, Eve, and all mankind into the great current of History. The second apple was Isaac Newton’s, the symbol of our entry into the age of modern science. The Apple Computers symbol was not chosen purely at random: it represents the third apple,  the one that widens the paths of knowledge leading toward the future. (Gassée 10-11)

The third cut I make into the history of twentieth century reading/writing interfaces is the era of the personal computer that was preceded by Douglas Engelbart, Alan Kay, and Seymour Papert’s experiments with (especially educational) computing and interface design from the mid-1960s to mid-1970s and that began with expandable homebrew kits from the mid- to late-1970s, irrevocably transforming into so-called “user-friendly,” closed, work-stations with the release of the Apple Macintosh in late January 1984.[1]

This chapter, then, concerns itself with two significant aspects of this roughly ten year period: first, the shift from seeing a user-friendly computer as a tool that encourages understanding, tinkering, and creativity to seeing a user-friendly computer in terms of an efficient work-station for productivity and task-management and the effect of this shift particularly on digital literary production. Second, tightly connected to the first, this chapter concerns itself with the rupture marked by the turn from computer systems based on the command-line interface to those based on “direct manipulation” interfaces that are iconic or graphical (GUI) – a turn driven by rhetoric that insisted the GUI, particularly that pioneered by the Apple Macintosh design team, was not just different from the command-line interface but it was naturally better, easier, friendlier. As I outline in the second section of this chapter, the Macintosh was, as Jean-Louis Gassée (who headed up its development after Steve Jobs’ departure in 1985) writes without any hint of irony, “the third apple,” after the first apple in the Old Testament and the second apple that was Isaac Newton’s, is “the one that widens the paths of knowledge leading toward the future.” (11)[2]

Despite studies released since 1985 that clearly demonstrate GUIs are not necessarily better than command-line interfaces in terms of how easy they are to learn and to use, Apple – particularly under Jobs’ leadership – successfully created such a convincing aura of inevitable superiority around the Macintosh GUI that to this day the same “user-friendly” philosophy, paired with the no longer noticed closed architecture, fuels consumers’ religious zeal for Apple products.[3] I should note that I have been an avid consumer of Apple products since I owned my first Macintosh Powerbook in 1995. However, what concerns me is that ‘user-friendly’ now takes the shape of keeping users steadfastly unaware and uninformed about how their computers, their reading/writing interfaces, work let alone how they shape and determine their access knowledge and their ability to produce knowledge. As Wendy Chun points out, it’s a system in which users are, on the one hand, given the ability to “map, to zoom in and out, to manipulate, and to act” but, she implies, the result is is a “seemingly sovereign individual” who is mostly an devoted consumer of ready-made software, ready-made information whose framing and underlying (filtering) mechanisms we are not privy to (8).

Thus, the trajectory of this argument culminates in chapter four, in which I make it clear that the logical conclusion of this shift to the ideology (if not the religion) of the user-friendly via the Graphical User Interface (GUI) is, first, expressed in contemporary multi-touch, gestural, and ubiquitous computing devices such as the iPad and the iPhone whose interfaces are touted as utterly invisible (and so their inner workings are de facto invisible as they are also inaccessible); and, second, this full realization of frictionless, interface-free computing born out of the mid-1980s is in turn critiqued by works of activist digital media poetics.[4] From this perspective, it is, then, no coincidence at all that Apple had actually designed something like an iPhone in 1983; at the same time that Macintosh designers were hard at work, Hartmut Esslinger, the designer of the Apple IIc, built a white landline phone complete with a built-in, stylus-driven touch-screen. (“Apple’s First iPhone”). The Apple IIc was in fact a close relative of the Macintosh in terms of portability and lack of internal expansion slots which made them both closed systems; the IIc was also released in 1984, just three months after the Macintosh.

But while chronologically proceeding from the era of the typewriter, using a media archaeology methodology to understand this particular rupture in media history means that activist media poetics plays out quite differently in the 1980s as it was an era newly oriented toward the efficient completion of tasks over and beyond a creative use or mis-use of the computer. Arguably one reason for the heightened engagement in hacking type(writing) in the mid-1960s to mid-1970s is that the typewriter had become so ubiquitous in homes and offices that it had also become invisible to its users. It is precisely at the point at which a technology saturates a culture that writers and artists, whose craft is utterly informed by a sensitivity to their tools, begin to break apart that same technology to once again draw attention to the way in which it offers certain limits and possibilities to both thought and expression. There are indeed examples of digital media activist poems that also inherit an emphasis on making, doing, hacking but – once again – it seems to me that the vast majority of these works do not appear until both the personal computer and the user-friendly computer whose GUI is designed to keep the user passively consuming technology rather than actively producing it become practically ubiquitous.

As I discuss in the first section of this chapter, activist media poetics in this particular time period mostly takes the form of experimentation with digital tools that at the time were new to writers – an experimentation that, at least under the terms set by Mckenzie Wark’s Hacker Manifesto, certainly could be framed as hacking (Wark infamously writes that “Hackers create the possibility of new things entering the world” [004] and that “The slogan of the hacker class is not the workers of the world united, but the workings of the world untied” [006]). However, as I will discuss, work by Invisible Seattle, bpNichol, Paul Zelevansky, Geof Huth, and Robert Pinsky is not working to make the (in this case) command-line interface visible so much as it is openly playing with and tentatively testing the parameters of the personal computer as a still-new writing technology. This kind of open experimentation almost entirely disappeared once Apple Macintosh’s design innovations as well as their marketing made open computer architecture and the command-line interface obsolete and GUIs pervasive.


[1] Related to this shift from the homebrew kit to the user-friendly GUI-based personal computer is the initial attempt to make computers appear friendly to uncertain, first-time buyers by marketing them as sophisticated typewriters. For example, Don Lancaster’s declares in the TV Typewriter Cookbook that his 1973 TV Typewriter can “convert an ordinary Selectric office typewriter into a superb hard-copy printer” (218); and a 1979 advertisement in Byte magazine for the word processor AUTOTYPE (produced by Infinity Micro) – “a true processor of words – oddly includes images of text in the shape of arrows and trees which could easily be mistaken for typewriter-created concrete poetry. (“Autotype” 169)

[2] It’s worth noting that, despite Gassée’s hyperbolic rhetoric that I use to help demonstrate the ideological fervor of those working for Apple in the 1980s, his vision for Macintosh was quite different from Jobs’ in that Gassée helped shepherd onto the market three models of the Macintosh (the Mac Plus, Mac II, and Mac SE) that were all expandable instead of the first generation Macintosh which actively prevented users from opening up the computer by, as I describe in the body of this chapter, giving the user a small electrical shock if they did not adhere to the warnings. While these later models of the Macintosh included expansion slots which philosophically returned Apple to the era of Steve Wozniak’s Apple II (whose six expansion slots permitted a whole range of devices for display controllers, memory boards, hard disks etc.), it seems clear that the return of Jobs to Apple in 1997 meant – and still does mean – a return to keeping the inner workings of Apple computers and computing devices firmly closed off to users.

[3] For example, in 1985 John Whiteside et al wrote in “User Performance with Command, Menu, and Iconic Interfaces” that “interface style is not related to performance or preference (but careful design is)” and further they concluded, “the care with which an interface is crafted is more important than the style of interface chosen, at least for menu, command, and iconic systems.” (185, 190) Such studies have been repeated as recently as 2007 (see Chen et al).

[4] It is precisely out of a media archaeology impulse that I have created the Archeological Media Lab at the University of Colorado at Boulder – a lab which houses most of the computers I discuss in this chapter, including the Apple II, Apple Lisa, and Apple Macintosh – precisely because their out-datedness very clearly communicates to us now the design ideologies behind both their hardware and software that delimits what can be written, what can be thought. The key to the lab’s success will be to avoid presenting these machines as novelty or kitsch and instead approach each of them as a productive field for understanding our computing past and present.

sifteo cubes in the humanities classroom

I recently ordered, with glee, Sifteo cubes in the hopes that I might be able to use them either in the classes I teach or perhaps add them to the Archeological Media Lab which, while largely invested in studying outdated computer hardware and software, is also broadly concerned with the study of interface design. As the Sifteo cube interface is equal parts touch-sensitive and motion-sensitive – for example, you choose menu options by pushing the cubes together or you can activate different parts of the games by shaking the cubes or placing them face down – they seemed like a necessary addition to the lab’s growing library of gadgets. (And of course, after many happy hours of compulsive playing and tinkering with the cubes at home, I was also looking for a legitimate excuse to bring the cubes into my classes.)

This, then, is a short review of Sifteo cubes and my own attempt to work out, for myself and for my colleagues (especially those involved in the Teaching with Technology Seminar sponsored by ASSETT), whether these cubes are might be a productive addition to an undergraduate class on digital media or even a literature class on electronic literature. But, I should be clear: this review is in the context of the classes I’m teaching right now that reflect my own (rather unconventional) research interests.

While more and more I’m becoming interested in old media, analog media, as well as the history of computing, one reason I’m housed in an English literature department is because of my interest in e-literature with an emphasis on digital poetry. By “digital poetry” I generally mean a work that is ‘digital born,’ a first-generation digital object created on a computer and (usually) meant to be read on a computer. Whether or not the text is “poetry” more often than not depends on what critical apparatus you decide to bring to the work—many of the digital works I’m interested could be classified as fiction or visual art as easily as they could be poetry; I’ve found that once text enters the digital, genre distinctions start to break down.

In the undergraduate course I teach on digital poetry, I’ve come up with four broad conceptual categories by which to help students think about digital poems: 1) digital poetry that brings us to the absolute limits of interpretation; 2) the historical underpinnings of digital poetry (including units on how Dada, Futurism, and Concrete Poetry have influenced digital poetry); 3) the lineage of computer-generated poetry that spans the 1950s to the present day – or, basically, the use of algorithms to generate text; 4) and reading/writing poetry interfaces from the 21st back to the early 20th century. In terms of the latter, I try to teach my students to see how digital poems draw our attention to their interface, usually through an interface that’s difficult to navigate that in turn helps make writing interfaces less transparent; in contrast to the rhetoric around every new multi-touch or gestural interface that touts how its interface “just disappears! it’s completely ‘natural’ and ‘intuitive'”, I try to get my students to think about what it means for an interface to be invisible or natural  – just whose intuition is driving this interface? Also, and more importantly, I feel strongly that the more invisible an interface becomes the less access we have to making things outside of ready-made software and the less access we have to understanding what’s going on underneath the hood. As such, we also look at how these digital poems have been constructed—what software has been used or hacked to create these word objects? What can we learn from studying these works at the level of the code?

The second course I frequently teach is called “Introduction to Digital Media for Humanities” which serves as a humanities-based introduction to digital media structures such as the digital archive and reading/writing software that fundamentally affects what we ourselves are able to read/write; theories and methodologies for under-taking digital media scholarship in the humanities; and, finally, digital textualities ranging from text messaging, blogging, and games to digital fiction and poetry. Ideally, this course gives students the critical skills they need to understand and navigate a 21st century world in which digital media govern the storage, transmission and reception of a whole range of textual material.

Both classes have a distinct and recurring emphasis on doing and making a necessary adjunct to learning the course material; as such, at the end of the semester we have a “demo day” where students exhibit their own works of digital poetry or digital textuality they create in response to the texts we study in class. The point of this assignment is not to impress the class with technical skills – the point is to engage as fully as possible in thinking about how you create affects what you’ve created; in other words, to enact a kind of study or critique of software and how it shapes creative production through doing. This means too that I don’t need students to learn Flash or Actionscript as there are plenty of ways they can “hack” powerpoint or keynote or Prezi to create compelling digital texts.

To slowly move to a discussion of Sifteo cubes, the nature of the final project also means I’m always on the look-out for interesting, new tech to use for this assignment – but there are some restrictions: 1) the tech needs to be somewhat easily accessible (as students have only about 3 weeks to complete the assignment); 2) the tech needs to be free or cheap or easy for me to share with my students; 3) the tech needs to have a textual, ideally literary, potential so that students can learn about how language operates in a digital environment. I can usually find tech that satisfies two out of 3 of these requirements and, in this way, Sifteo cubes are no exception.

David Merrill and Jeevan Kalanithi designed the cubes while they were graduate students at the MIT Media Lab, and they have since formed a company to produce Sifteo Cubes, games, and software. Inspired by classic games such as chess, checkers, and mah-jong, Sifteo Cubes are a hands-on interactive game system. You can turn cubes, shake them, press down on them, and connect them with each other. Each cube contains a tiny computer chip and is connected to other cubes, sensing their motion and position through a wireless network to the Sifteo application on a nearby computer. They come with desktop software that allows you to browse and play games, create your own with the Sifteo Creativity Kit, and find more in the Sifteo store. [An intriguing side-note: Sifteo cubes were recently featured in a MOMA exhibit called “Talk To Me” , featuring a number of cutting edge designs that attempt to reimagine the notion of ‘interface.’]

There are three games available at the moment that (arguably) include textual elements or just elements that are conceivably related to the two courses I outline above: LoopLoop, Wordplay, and Chroma Shuffle. All three games teach students individual components of what goes into creating a digital poem or even just net art. LoopLoop is about the art of the remix: so much of digital poetry/net art remixes from other sources – pulls from source texts, music, visuals to rearrange; instead of framing remix as plagiarism or laziness (“you didn’t make that yourself!”), this game consists of small music samples and beats you can layer and combine and so it demos how choosing/editing/curation is an art in itself. Wordplay is about the art of the combinatorial: many digital poems are based on the art of viewing language and words as material bits that can be re-combined to form new material bits; it’s another form of remix that takes place at the level of the letter rather than the sentence or the work of art/music as a whole. Chroma Shuffle is about the art of the game: many works of net art/digital poetry have been heavily influenced by games/gaming and as a result turns reading into playing/interacting which in turn requires an organized awareness of objects in the space – or spatial visualization.

Hopefully, given my description of these three Sifteo games, their appeal is obvious. However, there are a few drawbacks: aside from the price tag (a set of three cubes with the charger dock costs about $150 on Amazon.com which makes them prohibitively expensive for most students), they are fantastic to consume which is also the problem – they seem to strongly encourage a passive acceptance of the interface and they discourage users from thinking about how the cubes work and from creating outside of the ready-made environment. I haven’t yet thought of a way to “hack” the Sifteo Cubes to make them do things they might not have been intended to do – like make digital poems. There is indeed a software developers kit but it requires that you know the programming language C. There is also a Creativity Kit which does allow you to change some of what you might call the “vocabulary” of the games (the letters and words) but only allows limited changes to the grammar – the underlying structure – of the games.

All this said: despite the downsides I mention above, if there’s a way for an institution to provide access to Sifteo cubes without saddling students with an additional expense, my sense is that these cubes are still well worth experimenting with in the classroom. I can’t help but endorse any piece of technology that grabs students as much as these cubes and impels them to learn and create.

MLA 2012 Special Session | Reading Writing Interfaces: E-Literature’s Past & Present

Below are abstracts for the papers that Dene Grigar, Stephanie Strickland and Marjorie Luesebrink, myself, and Mark Sample will present at the January 2012 MLA Annual Convention in Seattle. Our papers could certainly change between now and then, but for now…here is the shape of our panel. [Note: as of January 12, 2012 a copy of my own paper is available here.]

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It is remarkable that in just ten years, since the publication of the first book on electronic literature (Loss Glazier’s Digital Poetics in 2001), e-literature has firmly established itself as a thriving field. However, all too often, readings of e-literature (or digital-born writing that makes the most of the capabilities of its medium) take the form of accounts of what appears on the screen, with little attention to the material context of the writing – whether its hardware or software. Or, conversely, such readings point to how e-literature reminds us of Marshall McLuhan’s dictum that the medium is the message. Instead, this panel takes up Katherine Hayles’ injunction for “media-specific analysis” of e-literature by focusing on the defining role of the interface in particular. Our argument is this: personal computers from the 1980s as much as the latest multitouch devices are finally revealing themselves not just as media but as media whose functioning depends on interfaces that frame what can and cannot be written. Further, e-literature often deliberately works against or draws attention to the strictures of digital writing interfaces and so it is an ideal site to explore this tight inter-connection between writing and writing interface. All four presentations, then, try to shift the definition of “interface” outside its conventional usage (in which interface is usually defined quite broadly as the intermediary layer between a user and a digital computer or computer program) and apply it to digital writing/media from the last twenty years to mean the layer between the reader and particular computer platforms which allows the reader to interact with a literary text.

As an example of this approach, Dene Grigar‘s paper opens our panel with a detailed discussion of the exhibit “Early Authors of Electronic Literature: The Eastgate School, Voyager Artists, and Independent Productions” (now installed at the University of Washington). Grigar looks specifically at the major technological shifts in affordances and constraints provided by early computer interfaces and the ways in which e-literature writers from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s worked with and against these interfaces. For example, she discusses the command-line interface of the Apple IIe – which was released in 1983 – as an example of an interface that exemplifies an ideology wholly different from the now dominant Graphic User Interface. Thus, the command-line interface also makes possible entirely different texts and entirely different modes of thinking/creating such as that exemplified by bpNichol’s “First Screening” from 1984.

Stephanie Strickland and Marjorie Luesebrink then offer a co-presentation in which they move the discussion into the 21st century by focusing on works included in the recently published Electronic Literature Collection Volume Two – an online anthology that highlights and preserves exemplary e-literature from 2001 – 2010. This collection features a stunning variety of interface choices in works of animation, generation, augmented reality, gaming, hypertext, AI-based interactive drama, interactive fiction, poetry and video. Strickland and Luesebrink focus in particular on e-literature whose interface requires the reader’s bodily movement as a fundamental component as well as those texts whose reading calls for a knowledge of code as well as a familiarity with network forms such as the database, personal home page, Frequently Asked Questions list, blog, listserv, commercial website, wiki, or email. Thus, while they acknowledge the interface defines what is or can be written, Strickland and Luesebrink demonstrate that the interface also creates the reader.

I, Lori Emerson, will then take a slightly different approach in that I argue recent e-literature by Judd Morrissey and Jason Nelson represents a broad movement in e-literature to draw attention to the move toward the so-called “interface free” – or, the interface that seeks to disappear altogether by becoming as “natural” as possible. It is against this troubling attempt to mask the workings of the interface and how it delimits creative production that Judd Morrissey creates “The Jew’s Daughter” – a work in which readers are invited to click on hyperlinks in the narrative text, links which do not lead anywhere so much as they unpredictably change some portion of the text. Likewise working against the clean and transparent interface of the Web, in “game, game, game and again game,” Jason Nelson’s hybrid poem-videogame self-consciously embraces a hand-drawn, hand-written interface while deliberately undoing videogame conventions through nonsensical mechanisms that ensure players never advance past level 121/2. As such, both Morrissey and Nelson intentionally incorporate interfaces that thwart readers’ access to the text so that they are forced to see how such interfaces are not natural so much as they define what and how we read and write.

Finally, Mark Sample provides a close-reading of one work in particular that in fact takes advantage of the “interface free” multitouch display: released just in the last year, “Strange Rain” is an experiment in digital storytelling for Apple iOS devices (the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad) designed by new media artist Erik Loyer. As dark storm clouds shroud the screen of the iOS device, the player can take advantage of the way in which the multi-touch interface is supposedly “interface-free” – the player can touch and tap its surface, causing what Loyer describes as “twisting columns of rain” to splash down upon the player’s first-person perspective. In the app’s “whispers” and “story” modes “Strange Rain” unites two longstanding tropes of e-literature: the car crash – the most famous occurring in Michael Joyce’s Afternoon (1990); and falling letters – words that descend on the screen or even in large-scale installation pieces such as Camille Utterback and Romy Achituv’s Text Rain (1999). Sample argues “Strange Rain” transcends the familiar tropes of car crashes and falling text, reconfiguring the interface as a means to transform confusion into certainty, and paradoxically, intimacy into alienation. [the full text of Sample’s paper is now available here.]