Windows To The Soul
Thursday, 26 January 2006
The pain of Windows…
People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Probably not wise to throw anything, but it’s not my place to disturb clichés. Right now I do feel like throwing something: my windows are – or rather my Windows is – broken. And while facing that blue screen of introspect, I could only blame one thing. Money.
People who throw money at broken things see little wrong with broken things. A curable nuisance at worst, a change of decor at best. New computer, new software and a new desk. Those without the means are forced to take more hands-on action, repairing or cleaning by their fingertips. That’s me.
However, I’m not here to tell you about why I’m here. I’m here to tell you about what is quite likely the single biggest metaphor of the past century. For those of you that are unsure of what I’m talking about, that would be the 20th century.
Throughout the century, communication went forward by leaps and bounds. Milestones were passed with barely time for a snapshot, the background smeared by an accelerating pace of technology. With the developments in communication came developments in language. Words became cheaper, and could change on a dime. One can now coin a word and immediately have it circulating in currency.
Towards the latter half of the century, computing grew from bespectacled nerdly seedling to cool, shaded forest. Not long ago, computing came at a risk of paper cuts. Now it comes at a risk of being hacked. And nothing is more the target of hackers than Microsoft wood. Specifically its titanic “Windows” operating system.
If Windows software were a boat, we would never buy into it. We certainly wouldn’t pay much for it. Like the fishtale captain of a slipshod ship, Microsoft assures us that though filled with holes and covered in patches, this tub is kept stable, safe and unsinkable. The captain knows quite well before leaving the port that a ship is kept afloat by its captain not its keel, and that with the right sails, pitch and tack they can face any storm. As we of the computer world head into uncharted waters, we turn our trust to the captain, and turn a hopeful, blind eye to the battered ship we ride. Any port in a desert…
Unthinkably, my Windows crashed yesterday in calm waters. While trying to navigate around the problem, things worsened, and I was forced to toss precious cargo overboard. Unable to back up the ship, I became lost at sea, nauseated by the rough seas that surrounded me. I’d've prefered to buy a new ship or gotten someone else to repair it. These were not options, so this landlubber became lubber, forced to get his feet wet yet again. My efforts to repair the vessel in vain, I drifted away and hit the keys. I wrote a message in a bottle, then tossed it into a vast sea of silicon.
“The name Windows is brilliant” I wrote, sipping on some water. “It is a natural visualization in nearly all cultures, and may even resemble our very thought process. When we think about or imagine something, a window-like object opens in our minds, closing when finished. So intrusive is this, that talking on the cell phone while driving seems to “blind” drivers. The representation of a window popping up on the screen then reflects the mind’s eye, with line-of-sight content through the window and peripheral options around its frame. This is so very like us – we commonly look to one side when considering our options and straight on when dealing directly with matters. It appears that the brain’s experience with the outside world is equally as virtual and optional as our intimate one is with the computer, layering window over window in similarly behaving pop-ups.“
I set down my pen, and thought for a moment, “Should I be typing with a pen in my hand?” I took another sip of water.
“This does stand to reason”, I reasoned, then took another sip, “brain and computer are bound in metaphor and in function. They also appear to be coevolving into likeness of being: interfaces and devices on each side are matching each other more closely. For example, the computer’s graphical resolution is approaching the human’s optical resolution, while humans most adept at typing quickly ensure their survival in the computer world.”
“It would then seem to follow that the structures that are most likely to prosper in computing are the ones most compatible with existing structures in the brain”, I sipped. “This would support the view that our neurons are arranged in conceptual clumps – domains – that can be laterally, progressively or regressively linked, and that a hyperlink is just one of many primitive forms of artificial synapse.”
I concluded, ever so sippingly, “Whatever it was – whether it was the marketing, the product function or the product name, no one can dismiss the popularity of Microsoft’s Windows. And as Microsoft rolled around in its own superstar success, an unassuming metaphor was finding itself in the mouths and minds of millions. While other computer and communication terms came and went, the metaphor “window” thrived, as did its underlying device. Twenty five years of pre-Microsoft-associated nerdly use and two decades of post-Microsoft-associated popular use during turbulent lexicographical times. Maybe this speaks more about ourselves than it does the computer. Maybe the window concept is as natural to us as thought itself. Maybe the window is a mirror to the soul.”
“And maybe, just maybe, I shouldn’t be drinking this seawater… “