1.1 Constantly Evolving
I thought the best way to introduce digital is to take a look at where digital has come from and how it has evolved quickly since the first personal computers started appearing in the late 1960s. I know computers had been around a lot longer than 60s but this is the point where they started to become “Personal”.
Even though now anyone could own a personal computer thier market was very restricted to people wanting or needing to carry out large complex calculations and store information. It was purely a functional machine that had a very cold ,unfriendly, monotone interface that required a high level of understanding and learning to use. The only way a user could interact with the machine was through a strangely laid out keyboard for typing instructions and feedback was given in text and code through a monochrome monitor and printer.
Here is an example of an early personal desktop computer.
It was in the 70s that Apple took a new approach to computing and started to humanize the machine. They introduced a strange new device called a mouse that enabled to user to more instinctively point to what they want on screen and then click on some thing to perform a task. They also introduced a visual metaphor of an office to help make the computing more tangible to the user, greatly improving the user experience. Now the user did not have to pre learn specific commands and code to preform tasks. They would now have visual cues on the screen to the identity and functions of files and applications. As computers were generally used as a work tool the metaphor was tied to the office environment. That is a desktop for files currently working on, a folder to hold files, a filing cabinet to store/ archive folders and a trash can to delete and remove files. The user could also now drag and drop items as they would on their real desktop. The experience was a simulation of real life.
Here is Apples commercial for their new interface.
Apart from different providers altering the experiences slightly this has been the core user experience for all personal computer systems until only recently.
In the last couple of years we have seen the improvements in screens and new motion capture technology to knock down more interface barriers. What was once science fiction in films like “Minority Report” is now reality. Now we have touch screens were the user interacts directly with the elements on the screen with their hands as apposed to the mouse which is a proxy control. We can also see the adoption of gesture movements and controls to the user interface. Like scrolling, swiping, shaking. The user experience has become so intuitive that an infant can hold a phone or ipad and use it straight away. Another example of how far we have come is this.
Due to the popularity of these mobile device interfaces and the level of adoption on them we are now seeing standard PC operating systems shifting towards mobile social interface. The first big move since the 70s. Just look at windows 8/metro interface.
And apples next release Mountain Lion.
This fading out of the office metaphor reflects how computers no longer signify work and the office?
We are even starting to see shifts away from touch input to motion and voice.
Have a look at Apples Siri.
And Microsoft Kinect
The barriers are becoming seamless.
This increasingly ease of accessibility to computers has also influenced what we use the computer for. Originally they were used to crunch numbers and process hardcore algorithms and store data as mentioned above. In the early days you couldn’t do much more than maths calculations and write and save documents. With the introduction of the graphical interfaces the computer was opened up as a digital publishing and type setting tool for designers leading to a revolution in the print industry.
In the beginning we saw computers purely a work device then we quickly started to see the computers used for games and entertainment. For a long period of time the gaming industry was pushing the boundaries of computing and leading new hardware development. It was the consumers demand for more powerful graphics that drove the speed and memory of personal computers throughout 80s and 90s. With each new generation of video processors and memory we saw amazing leaps in interaction and story telling in games. Leading to the gaming now overtaking the movie industry in global entertainment market value.
With the introduction of the modem we started to see the computer become a valuable tool for communication. This really took off though with the introduction of broadband internet connections. In 2011 there was an estimated 2.1Billion internet users and growing with 2.6 billion IM accounts registered and 3.146 Billion emailers sending 1.19 Quadrillion emails. Unfortunately 71% of those emails were spam. View Source.
However since 1996 with the help of a little company called Google there was another growing use for computers. They started to become an unlimited source of information. The internet of connected machines world wide opened up a sea of knowledge. It quickly killed of businesses like encyclopaedia Britannica. You could find anything online and with the mainstream adoption broadband and companies like Youtube and Napster and iTunes ment this information was not restricted words and pictures any more. We now had access to endless amounts video, audio and even shopping. Online shopping has taken off to a point were we now have access to an infinite range of products that can be delivered to your door knocking out the need for the middle men like local distributors and retail chains. This has been a blessing and a curse for many retail business ever since. A blessing because there is more information available online for consumers to research their products and global markets have been opened. But a curse because now retailers have to compete with global economies and consumers also now have a voice online and their comments on products and services can be read by anyone.
Originally you needed to be skilled in HTML and a small bit of programming to put information up online but introduction of social media sites allowed users to upload and share their lives with others with ease. Social media sites are being used now as your online profile to login in automatically to other sites. A lot of our activity and lives is shared automatically which is starting to raise serious privacy concerns.
With all this content online social media channels and google have become important filtering, cataloging and archiving tools.
We use google to find what we want. We listen to friends to see what they like. We bookmark and share content we find and like.
Another massive evolution has been the mobility of the devices. The first computers took up entire levels of buildings. We then shifted to the personal computers and laptops where people could bring there work home. With the adoption of the in internet we saw our work shifting into the virtual online space. Now with smart phones we take that virtual space everywhere we go. With the infinite levels of information online now we can start looking at contextual filtering of information based on the location of where we are.
With digital came a wide variety of screens and screen sizes. Each screen having a different relationship with us and the way we react with us. In general speaking the smaller the screen the closer we are to it physically and emotionally.
Lets look at a cinema screen. We tend to prefer to sit further away from it. We generally also view these screens with many other people. It becomes a social activity and we sit back and are fed what we are watching. We are there to be entertained, for escape, and education.
On a smaller scale we have the TV. Traditionally this is a screen we watch with the family and friends in our living room with the TV a few metres away from us. We also tend to watch the same thing as large segments of the population with a limited number of choices in what we choose to consume. This is still very much considered a social activity as we go to work and discuss last nights viewing with others the next day.
With the computer screen the screens are now smaller we tend to sit a lot closer. The relationship is more one to one. With this one to one interactivity we can choose and seek out and what we want to watch. With the internet there is an unlimited amount of content to suit your tastes. We can also interact with what we are watching. It becomes a very personal experience. We can also choose to share content we are watching online with other while we are watching it.
Mobile screens are much smaller and we can measure the distance in centimeters. Or experiences is even more personal with this screen. The material on this device is usually for my eyes only. Where as a computer screen may be shared with others. The size of this screen limits the amount of content I view on this screen. Content is usually broken down into snack-able pieces. So I can digest it when ever I get a chance. This screen is with me 24/7 it has become my confidant. It could even be considered the new smoking as we often find our selves reaching for the phone when we are stuck with nothing too do. eg waiting for a bus, or a friend.
With personal one to one screens we can see our screens interacting back with us.
Our relationships with screens continue to evolve and it wont be long until our lives look something like this.
You can read more about screens here in this paper titles “Meet the screens” by Microsoft Advertising and BBDO.