Research Criteria (11 April version 2)

The project I am working on is to understand and to attempt build ‘an amazing thinking space’ focused on thinking when authoring an academic paper. The shaping criteria for this space is based on my philosophy of Liquid Information, which I worked on with Sarah Walton, the manifesto of which includes this introduction:

“When you are liquid relevant information is always within eye’s reach and relevant tools within hand’s reach. Everything is apparent at a glance – document icons communicate, tools are deeply explorable. You are informed – not overwhelmed. You can zig and zag in every direction. In any direction. Making paths, relationships and meaning as you go along – with your information, your tools and your media itself. You have a fluid overview of everything and you are in total control.” (Hegland, 1997)

Professional

The author will be required to spend some time to learn how to use this space in order to be effective. This is to remove lazy tendencies of simply putting buttons on the screen for commands. The amount of time the author should be required to spend should be as low as we can make it and the presentation/teaching of how to use the system needs to be an integral part of the design of the system itself.

Tangible

The ‘stuff’ the author works with should feel tangible. This means that direct manipulation should be employed where possible and internal models should reflect the author’s models as closely as possible. 

A Document View

It must be the same text and same data as the academic document being produced, not a separate mental or programatic space – it must be a view of the document, not an attachment.

Augment Thought

It must augment the thinking which will lead to a thorough understanding of the issues concerned. This will include: 

“identify issues and assumptions, recognise important relationships, make correct inferences, evaluate evidence or authority, and deduce conclusions” (Tsui, 2002)

Richly Interactive

It is taken as a foundational position that interactivity is of prime importance. This means that the author should be able to change the view fluently without a cost in concern of loosing previous views nor a cost of wondering how the desired view changes can be brought about. We get what Ted Nelson calls “non-sequential writing with free user movement.” (Nelson, T. email 08/07/02).

Relevant information are within eyes reach and relevant tools within hands reach. The author is not constrained by icon click over-simplicity, the author commands their information as richly as they command language.

Highly Visual

The reason for building this space is to use the visual processing power of the brain, together with the motor abilities of the hands to augment the prefrontal and frontal cortex’s higher level thinking, giving the author glanceable impressions and focused details. 

Connected

The space needs to be able to ‘zoom’ into other documents through links, as well as other resources, and back out again, smoothly.

  • Joe Corneli

    Not to be overly pedantic (please bear with me), but rather, hopefully, to establish a shared language for inquiry into this interesting question, let me kick off my comments with a definition:

    Criterion

    “A standard of judging; any approved or established rule or test, by which facts, principles, opinions, and conduct are tried in forming a correct judgment respecting them.”

    “…from Ancient Greek κριτήριον (kritḗrion, “a test, a means of judging”), from κριτής (kritḗs, “a judge”), from κρίνω (krínō, “I judge”); see critic.”

    But now we arrive at the main etymological point, which is that that criterion comes from the same root word as “critical” and “crisis.”

    Perhaps all of this is old hat. Indeed I believe you were, in fact, the one pointing *me* to the idea of self-organised criticality when we spoke last!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-organized_criticality

    To come to my main point: criteria “should” be specific and measurable, but they should *also* point us in the direction of a phase change. In effect, after slow and steady progress, something happens that changes everything. So, I think that in our context, criteria can be usefully
    connected with Marshall McLuhan’s ‘tetrad of media effects’ (…which I used in my own thesis to discuss specific technological interventions).

    Specifically, McLuhan’s question “How does it flip when pushed?” is similar to the “crisis” aspect of criticality that I was highlighting above.

    So, can we apply this tetrad to understand the criteria you’ve proposed in more depth? Let me tackle the first one.

    Professional [I fixed typo here by the way -JC]

    «The author will be required to spend some time to learn how to use this space in order to be effective. This is to remove lazy tendencies of simply putting buttons on the screen for commands. The amount of time the author should be required to spend should be as low as we can make it and the presentation/teaching of how to use the system needs to be an integral part of the design of the system itself.»

    ~~

    Retrieve – What does it bring back?

    To some extent I get the sense here of “RTFM” from Unix. You’re talking about a tool for professionals, so it makes sense that they should have to spend some time learning how to use it. This is interesting in a Macintosh context, since Macs are supposed to be “The computer for the rest of us” (1984), i.e., for non-geeks. So, in a way this criterion retrieves a tension that was present in the early days of the personal computing. That’s likely to be a good thing, IMO.

    Enhance – What does it amplify?

    The tension noted above notwithstanding, I also get the very contemporary idea of a “heads-up” display, which is a kind of paradigmatic example of an enhancing technology. You’re trying not to have buttons on the screen: but there could be some heads-up style help indicators; for comparison, keypresses are sometimes shown in YouTube videos that document how to use a specific piece of software. I think that the “Professional” criterion is specifically about helping people with the learning curve required to become an expert user. So, ultimately you will “enhance” the user’s ability.

    Obsolesce – What does it obsolesce?

    You’ve explicitly stated: “to remove lazy tendencies of simply putting buttons on the screen for commands.” I think you are referring mostly to MS Word-like interfaces here. But of course Word and its clones have been popular for a long time. I couldn’t find an early ad for Word, but
    I found this early add for Microsoft: http://www.pinfoltd.com/2016/07/the-very-first-advertisement-of-microsoft.html

    Reverse – How does it flip when pushed?

    Now, the ‘critical’ issue that I was making a big deal about above. One interesting flipped version is: “The author will NOT be required to spend time to learn how to use this space in order to be effective.” The tool is so intuitively easy, someone can be effective with it right
    away. Now it looks less like a “productivity tool” and more like a “training tool” or even a kind of “transitional object”. Winnicott described this as “the first possession … the intermediate area
    between the subjective and that which is objectively perceived.”

    «Should an adult make claims on us for our acceptance of the objectivity of his subjective phenomena we discern or diagnose madness. If, however, the adult can manage to enjoy the personal intermediate area without making claims, then we can acknowledge our own corresponding intermediate areas, and are pleased to find a degree of overlapping, that is to say common experience between members of a group in art or religion or philosophy.»

    Basically this seems to suggest that the object becomes more “shared.”

    ~~

    Anyway, that’s quite long but I hope useful; and perhaps this McLuhan-inspired approach can help digesting the other critical aims you’ve put forward.