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haptic nostalgia induced rambling

March 30, 2005

haptic nostalgia induced rambling

i pulled out my old laptop today to search for some software i wrote long ago. it was a surprisingly jarring experience - like revisting the touch and feel of an ex-lover, incessant daily interaction now nearly forgotten. that is not to say that i harbored romantic notions for my thinkpad (quite the opposite), but sensing that haptic habituation anew threw my motor cortex for a loop. imagine being back in the driver's seat of your high school car... the feel of its transmission, the knowing vibrations of the engine, that specific curve of acceleration. so familiar, yet so distant... and with so many memories attached.

here touch served as a trigger, can it be further "elevated" to a semiotic sign? what aspects would be pre- or post-linguistic? for example, in visualization we often map abstract visual attributes (location, shapes, sizes, colors) to linguistic/symbolic structures---hence the familiar numerical axes and legends of data graphics. the power comes in our ability to perform analysis using the visual features pre-linguistically: by "effortlessly" perceiving contrasting shapes, sizes, colors to "understand" differences. some largely subconscious semantic coupling then allows us to articulate what these percevied differences mean back in the linguistic realm, the land of signs and symbols. intense visual analysis involves the dialogue between these modes, thinking with and about images.

through both crafting visualizations and reading about craft, i've been wondering how far the concept of "direct manipulation" can go... at what point of perceptual richness do representations "become" objects themselves? and as a result of human perceptual malleability--as opposed to technological sophistication--are we already there? were we there as early as sketchpad? even if so, how do richer experiences change the game? what affordances should an object maintain such that you can purposefully break this perception and inspect its virtuality (e.g., the "view source" link in your web browser). and of course there's the requisite and dangerous challenge: what do we obscure in our attempt to enlighten?

maybe i should wait until post phd work, but i would love to play with these ideas in more senses than just the visual (+mouse/keyboard)... from visualization to perceptualization (anyone want to get me a smell-o-scope?). especially as i become more interested in social visualization, incorporating texture, temperature, and touch, and therefore also crafting abstract proxemics, might prove quite appropriate (e.g., non-textual testimonials in social netwoking sites - imagine warm or cool, soft or rough friendsters). who knows, the internet archive may some day enable you to wallow in nostalgia when you reunite with the forgotten feel of a web site you once loved.

Posted by jheer at March 30, 2005 04:25 PM
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