Beams and Bulbs and Computer Scientists

Being trained as a journalist at Moscow State University I went through hundreds of hours analyzing the comparisons and figures of speech used in contemporary journalistic practice. Usually before the class we had to buy the newest issue of the newspaper “Soviet Sport.” It was a safe shot for our teachers, because sport observers dealing over and over again with monotonous body movements are really shameless in introducing metaphors and packing their texts with loads of them.

But i think computer scientist are much better than sport reporters.

David Gelernter, a professor of computer science at Yale, describes something to replace the WWW. It will be called “Worldbeam.” To justify the name, stimulate our imagination and evoke positive feelings he writes:

Many sorts of information are blended together in the Worldbeam, just as many colors are combined into a beam of white light.

Another computer, John Maeda, recalls in his book The Laws of Simplicity that computer scientist Nicholas Negroponte advised to him

to become a light bulb instead of a laser beam […] His point was that you can either brighten a single point with laser precision, or else use the same light to illuminate everything around you. (p.53)

He took Negroponte’s advice seriously and, as the book shows, is indeed very skillful in illuminating not only things around him, but the obscure corners of his memory as well, finding there more and more unexpected evidence for the greatness of the iPod’s design.

Maeda’s text is an interesting case of talking about interface design, usability and information architecture while avoiding these terms. Instead he makes connections to raising and educating kids, learning to swim and to drive a car, cooking and serving food, being young and getting older.

On one hand, It is a noble task to make people see their relations with computers in a row of non-binary experiences.

On another, light beams and light bulbs and everything that has to do with light (except glow sticks) usually serve to produce positive, overly sweet allusions, and some of the most opaque and daft systems have been characterized with words like transparency (translucency) and light.

This light bulb person was found in a Navy Hazardous Substance Management System Newsletter from 1999:

Lightbulb clipart from 99

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