Problems and Explaining Them

When I was 2 years old my mother was taking me back to our little flat by the lake in the baby buggy and I remember (and have re-remembered many times since then, so it seems as fresh and anything else I have experienced) that I had a thought which initially was simply: “Children can solve problems just like adults can – as long as they are explained clearly” but which was followed after a moment with an insight; “so that is the real problem: How to explain the problem clearly!”

A more Liquid, Post GUI-UI.

How can a more Liquid, Post GUI-UI for authoring and reading textual knowledge contribute to deeper literacy?
• Definition of Liquid UI: A Low Friction, High-Flexibility Interaction ‘UI’ (‘User Interface’) providing High-Speed interaction.

• Definition of Post GUI-UI: GUI’ stands for ‘Graphical User Interface’ which is a paradigm for user interfaces which allows users to interact through graphical icons and visual metaphors primarily through pointing and clicking, while de-prioritising controls which need to be learnt and cannot be seen on the screen. This was a development of XEROX PARC after SRI’s command line interfaces, where the explicit target user was the knowledge worker’s secretary.

I therefore define a ‘Post-GUI UI’ as a User Interface which recapitulates the prominence of textual information on the screen (with an absolute minimum of controls being visible unless summoned for specific, mostly immediate use) and employ modern technologies to provide richer ways to display the text (such as high-resolution screens with high-refresh rates) and interact with the text (such as though commonly used and new keyboard shortcuts, trackpad gestures and methods for bringing up visible controls when needed, including a contextual ctrl-clicking and click-and-hold etc.).

• Definition of Deeper Literacy: Deeply Literate users are those who, to use an analogy, would prefer to learn to drive a car in order to have control over exactly where they go and what they see on the way, rather then just take a bus and end up on predefined stops. The goal is that for such users who put more effort in to learn how best to use powerful tools is that their knowledge becomes a different thing to them, not a superficial substrate for reading across but a deep and immersive space of opportunity to always learn more, question more and develop ever deeper understanding.

(definition of deep literacy added Monday 17th of July 2017)

Preamble to PhD, 23 Jun, 11:27

My friend and mentor Doug Engelbart sent me the following email:


I honestly think that you are the first person I know that is expressing the kind of appreciation for the special role which IT can (no, will) play in reshaping the way we can symbolize basic concepts to elevate further the power that conditioned humans can derive from their genetic sensory, perceptual and cognitive capabilities.

Engelbart, 2003

My intent with this PhD project is to pursue this legacy by pushing as far as I can beyond what current text interactions are, towards a state of richer text-interaction systems resulting in a deeper literacy for the user. The work will centre around a software system developed quite literally from a blank slate, where a major work output will be the continuous exploration and research being written up and made accessible to others who are also wrestling to get the most out of the written word.

My initial user community will be scholars who are interested in improving their textual document interactions, not simply following the paper-like models we have inherited quite blindly. I have already starting connecting with such individuals and building a nascent community. 

The areas of inquiry will then include areas outside of computer science, since it is of course the user I aim to augment, not the computer systems. There will be limits to the depth of research I can do in the other fields of course, so I will focus primarily on the implementation and testing on the software system, inspired by the insights gleamed from other fields. 

My direction therefore mirrors Doug’s own, though this is a different project and I come at it from my own point of view:

The conceptual framework we seek must orient us toward the real possibilities and problems associated with using modern technology to give direct aid to an individual in:

comprehending complex situations, 

isolating the significant factors, and 

solving problems.

Engelbart, 1962