IN THE EARLY days of the computer, only a selected number of people could take on its challenges and understand its language and mechanisms.
Often, these involve some kind of esoteric, if not iconoclastic, approaches with large attempts at writing down computations — in figures and diagrams — and shared eureka moments among individuals in a basement building or some isolated hall somewhere.
As computers evolved — its components and shells shrank, its operations became the equivalent of silent, invisible clockwork, and its language somewhat simplified — its attraction to a wider user base became inevitable. Computer mastery slowly became less a mystery.
Somewhere along the way, the Internet successfully blurred the lines between time zones and realities, personas and personalities and the once sacred/irreverent social categories as “geeks” and “nerds” from the M-O-S. Further down the timeline, the internet (true to form, still evolving into what is now referred to as “the Interweb”), whose existence is largely the result of computer evolution, influenced one’s reputation or repudiation, of product SRPs and marketability. In fact, the Internet has sometimes transformed reputation into market/able value (and its opposite consequences).
The most apt explanation we’ve given to computers, the Internet/internet and all encompassing experiences, is the fulfillment of “connection”, where both have transcended commoditization to a necessary function, somewhat akin to an extended appendage.
By and large, the introduction of the Internet into our lives, and its subsequent conquest, has been motivated by good intentions. How else would computers be more work-able, beneficial and improved on if the terminals, controlled by humans, were simply stand-alones. As computers were our extensions, so too were its functions.
And so connect we all did, under a virtual spider web of activities and communications, of accomplishments and failures, and of common goals and values. After all, as man is a social animal, this very necessary function has been taken advantage of by the Internet.
There was, for the average user, the IRC (generally a spin-off of the more selective and archival BBS), revolutionary in that it was a two-way communication “in real time”, which, of course, largely depended on the user’s bandwith, computer model and connection — internet connection, that is. From these two spawned communities, the “virtual” kind. In real life, people of common sensibilities, who converge and do exchanges regularly almost always gravitate towards, and eventually become actively involved in communities, don’t they? The virtual kind was not much different.
A quick fast-forward through these communication channels, e.g. BBS -> IRC -> mIRC -> IM -> brings us to yet another consequence of the internet: the evolution of language/s and user experiences, where once, user experience was as quick and no-frills as a monochrome monitor, and language reduced to pictograms and acronyms for faster exchanges. Despite these limitations, however, each user came away from a chat session with some degree of liberation, each with a new sense of accomplishment, especially if the session meant being able to express anger, gain sympathy, share a joke, capture an audience or simply know the exact time and weather on the other side of the globe.
And on our side of the globe, in today’s incarnation of the venerable IRC, of what is now the new world of SNS — yet another one of those internet-only dictionary entries: Social Networking Sites — is the 21st century online community. “Virtual” gave way to “online”, chat boards and channels are now SNS’es, where the latest news of an earthquake in Japan, a traffic jam in EDSA or someone’s scrumptious lunch is broadcast in more “real time” than it ever was.
When a meet-up was hastily organized by a few users of one of these current SNS’es, Plurk (who’d have thought of such a name in the dial-up IRC-era?), called for, in true internet fashion, via postings online, a few brave souls in the northern part of Metropolitan Manila dared go out and defy the sub-stormy Sunday evening, drop the [wired] connection, dislocate from their extended virtual limbs, and go for a RL face-to-face. Real life. Real food. Real interactions. And some real-time electric currents exchanged via warm handshakes.
In the 21st century, it seems that nothing much has changed: the “Plurkers” all got to the Plurkfiesta in their most casual wear, arriving either by carpool or public transportation. Connected still, even as this happening was completely “wireless”, except for the occasional online update posting via G3 on some users’ phones (ok, now that’s very 21st century). Most especially, nothing has changed the human need to still be among warm bodies indulged in real-life chatter.
“Ah, a nerd-meet is underway”, was probably what was on some other people’s thought bubbles on the other tables. But nerds nor geeks these were not. Rather, this was a gathering of a motley of very ordinary people: a disc jockey/magician, a teacher-explainer, a bakery-owner, a photographer/fish collector, a travel agent, an educator, some bloggers, a balik-bayan and so forth. But perhaps because the invisible interweb that was cast has been virtually anchored into our lives, and computers have become the other brain that work within us, there is a geek in all of us.
There is always something about breaking the fourth wall, as it were: where true interaction takes place across the table and personas become real persons; nicknames have faces and minds have voices. Where “LOLs” become even funnier when burst in a chorus. Where virtual becomes real. And where “user experience”, now more enriched with computer GUIs and APIs, becomes a personal one.
Many more such communities inter-weave elsewhere, some regularly, some for the first time.
What took all of these years to make computers conquerable, and the internet experience seamless, is the fact that at the end of the day, the fulfillment of basic human function is brought to another level. Perhaps the process of selection is different, the mode of communication circuitous, and the agenda free, but the commonality among us prevails: the interpersonal exchanges, no matter how brief, will always be embedded deeper and stored greater than any memory chip will ever hold.
UPDATE 12 March 09
Including a link to this list of OS GUIs from 1981-2009 by webdesignerdepot.com. Great list with screen shots.
Also, toastytech.com’s collection of GUIs (from webdesignerdepot.com)