In my ramble through the possibilities of Mobile Gothic, Ruskin’s fifth quality of Gothic – Rigidity or Obstinacy – was the hardest to express. It may not be all of Christopher Alexander’s qwan, but it’s certainly an important part of it.
At the time I wrote:
“The articulation of the parts of the mobile user experience is a key to its success, which is why we talk a lot about flow, about seamless user experience, but it often sounds vapid. Ruskin reminds us that there should be angles, there should be tension and change as we move from one mode to another.”
The angles, the angles, it’s all in the angles. It’s all in the angle brackets. Because at the heart of Mobile Gothic is hypertext.
And at the heart of hypertext is, well, text.
Let’s pause for a moment to remember just how amazing text is.
Somehow we humans have parlayed the hunter gatherer’s pattern recognition instincts – evolved for rapidly spotting food and predators – into a supremely efficient way to mainline other people’s ideas into our brains. No faster way has yet been invented.
For all the emotional richness of voice and video communication, this is the good enough solution that’s upderpinned our progress from the Book of the Sibyls to “Spinvox converts your voicemails into text”.
From the desktop bible…
… and the desktop computer…
… to the handheld paperback…
… and the mobile phone…
… text uses people to make more text.
Augmented reality? With what is this reality to be augmented? For the most part, text…
But text alone is not enough. Mere words stand, like the Greek and Egyptian buildings that Ruskin deprecated, “by their own mass, one stone passively incumbent on another.”
Mobile Gothic needs more – “an elastic tension and communication of force from part to part.” That’s where the angle brackets come in.
Hypertext is hyper. It goes beyond, but does not take away from, the original text.
In The Plenitude, his postumously published credo for the Stuff Tribe, Rich Gold writes:
There are cultures where telling stories means retelling the same story that your parents told you.The power of the story comes, in fact, from the retelling of it over and over again. In its consistency, its sameness, it provides the eternal. In our culture this is called copyright infringement and you can be fined or even sent to jail. Each story must be new and different.
Subversively, hypertext restores something of those cultures where repetition is prized…
Here’s Christopher Alexander on the building of the great Gothic cathedrals:
“There were hundreds of people, each making his part within the whole, working, often for generations… The master builder did not need to force the design of the details down the builders’ throats, because the builders themselves knew enough of the shared pattern language to make the details correctly, with their own individual flair.”
Repetition, and reuse, with the changefulness brought about by many hands working together, but separately.
Of course there was printing before Gutenberg, but only his moveable type made it disruptive. There was an Internet before Berners-Lee, but it was his hypertext that made it a web. Mobile Gothic should have hypertext at its heart.
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