The Ubiquity of the Text Box (excursus)

One of my favorite authors in the field of „search“ is John Battelle. Although he was not trained in the field of information science or information retrieval, his experience in the fields of journalism and publishing at the cusp of the so-called „information revolution“ apparently led him to learn many things sort of by osmosis.

One of my favorite ideas of his is the way he talks about human-computer interaction. Initially, this was almost exclusively text-based. Then, he notes, with the advent of „graphical user interfaces“ (GUIs), computers became more and more instruments with which humans, would point at stuff. He has presented this idea quite often, I don’t even know which presentation I should refer, link or point to – which one I should index.

In the early days of search, the book was ubiquitous. Indeed, several hundred years ago it almost seems as though each and every question could be answered with one single codex – and this codex was called „Bible“ (which means, essentially, „the books“). We have come a long way, baby. Today, we might say that online, the text box is king“ (Tom Paine, eat your heart out! 😉 ).

Although computer manufacturers desparately try to limit the choices consumers have once they have acquired their machines with loads of previously installed (and usually highly sponsored) software, it will not be very long before the typical consumer is confronted with a text box in order to interact with his or her mish-mash of hardware and software. Even without typing out any text whatsoever, whenever a human presses on a button to take a picture or clicks on an icon to record an audio or video, the associated files are given a text-string filename by the gizmo machinery. All of the code running on each and every machine is written out in plain text somewhere. When computers write their own Bible, it is quite probable that they would start off with something like „In the beginning was the text, and it was human.“

If humans ever asked an „artificially intelligent“ computer a question like „what is love?“ the computer would probably be very hard-pressed not to respond „a four-letter word“.

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