I know I'm highly susceptible to suggestion from my friends, but when Anthony raved about Write Room, I was skeptical. It looked to me like the computer equivalent of a 1950s retro diner: a loving recreation of an historical artifact that we shouldn't miss.

But I must say, I'm hooked. Maybe it's just the Hawthorne Effect, or the appeal of new devices; but I doubt it.

Basically, Write Room is a really simple writing interface. What it does is take whatever you're writing (so long as it's not Microsoft Word– it doesn't work with Word), and put it in green text in a black window (that's the default anyway). Essentially, it's a piece of software that's a mode: call it IBM CRT display, ca. 1969. The only thing missing is the sound of each key clicking like an angry cicada.

But strangely, it works. The light text on black background is easier on the eyes, at least for a while, and might even be a bit calming. And there's something about all the menus, other open windows, etc. being invisible that helps one concentrate, at least a little.

The thing I really love about it, though, is the assumption that the way to achieve a Zen-like simplicity is to invoke an older kind of human-computer interaction. Write Room makes your computer screen look like something from the 1968 Engelbart demo– or maybe a little earlier. To a generation of computer users who've grown up with color screens, ever-fancier transitions, cliipies, etc., this is simplicity. Or at least it's an interface that signifies simplicity, which works out to the same thing.

Of course, the other interesting thing is the spatial metaphor in the name. Write Room? Why a room? The idea, of course, is that you using the program is supposed to be like shutting yourself in some meditative room, where you're free from distractions and able to contemplate the Eternal Verities (or something). But there's nothing remotely spatial about it: it's as flat an interface as you cold imagine, and the transition into it isn't fancy at all; it's just a quick switch. For all it's amazing simplicity, the choice of the word "room" suggests just how powerful spatial metaphor remain in our thinking about computers and human-computer interaction.

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