Daniel G. Siegel

Digital Product Architect

The lost medium

From the handaxe to the light bulb, the wheel to the car, the printing press to the television: all these tools and media have changed our world thoroughly. And not only that, but also how we interact with the world. The computer brings us into a unique position to have an impact that lasts longer than only the next iteration of a new technology. What happens when we see ourselves not only as developers and designers, but reconsider the interaction between people and computers in general?

Full abstract

We are 50 years into the computer revolution, at what feels like our moment of greatest progress. There is technology easily worth one million dollars in a smartphone. The phone, calculators, cameras, games, music and video players. All of which at the date of release have cost more than a phone itself, when it first entered the market. Today's ubiquitous graphical user interface has its roots in concepts dating back to the mid-'60s. These concepts were then further developed at XEROX Parc in the '70s, and successfully commercialized in the Apple Macintosh in the early '80s, whereupon they essentially froze.

Now, despite thousand-fold improvements along every technological dimension, the concepts behind today's interfaces are almost identical to those in the initial Mac. This talk will focus on these ideas and try to convey the computer as a new medium, similar as the printing press, the radio, the TV and the car are and were.

To make progress as humanity we have to focus on media and tools will have an impact that lasts longer than the next iteration of a new technology. Marshall McLuhan once famously said 'we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us'. We have to start shaping our tools - the computer - and tackle problems such as collaboration, invent better principles than pencil and paper thinking and have to come up with better paradigms. Otherwise, we will not shape our tools - they will shape us.