Tech savvy, books, and systems

This post is taken from a visual journal entry for IST 400/600: Information Design.

“Medieval Helpdesk”:

This is an old video from 2001 that I recently remembered. It parodies the modern tech support scenario–the waiting, the lingering confusion–with the twist being that the “new system” to get used to is the book as it replaces the scroll. When I first saw this, I was still in high school and hadn’t yet had any classes on books as a technology or information design or information-specific anything.

It was superficially funny but also made me think about books as books, and what it would be like to try using one if one had never been seen before. How taken for granted, perhaps, are the affordances and mapping of the physical book: that it opens in the direction that accommodates the direction language is read, that the pages are meant for turning back and forth. (The confusion over whether the text would stay on the page was more silly than thought-inducing, though, I thought, as scrolls would be rolled up in a similarly text-obscuring manner. Then again, the text on scrolls were all part of one continuous document, not discrete pages, so perhaps I am still being presumptuous.)

This ties further into our discussion of systems, particularly the idea of having “an appropriate level of system awareness,” which I am going to twist to the end-user perspective. The book requires a level of tech savvy that the scribe/monk/whatever-he-is hasn’t mastered. Even once he masters page-turning, as indeed we all have today, at what point is he tech savvy to the book? Are we? We can use them, just as we can interact with GUIs, but could we build a high-quality book? Does “tech savvy” require being able to stitch the binding (or write the application)? I know many who would say so, but the idea of an appropriate level of awareness (if you can do what you need to get to get done) is tempering my own opinion on the matter.

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