I'm not a Mac fanatic, but every computer I've bought with my own money has been a Mac. I got an SE in 1988, and have gone through various Quadras, iMacs, and laptops since then. Since the beginning much of the appeal of the Mac was the graphical interface. First, it was the only personal computer with a GUI. Then after the appearance of Windows, it was a better version of the GUI: cleaner, faster, more intuitive, or whatever.

I still gravitate to Macs, but I'm beginning to see the outlines of a future in which graphics are really good, but the graphical user interface is obsolete.

Two things are driving the fall of the GUI. One is mobile devices, whose screens are too small to handle the kinds of GUIs we've had on personal computers. The other is the growth of search and tagging tools as an alternative to visual (and often hierarchical) systems for organizing and accessing documents on personal computers. I'll talk about the first here.

Consider the iPod. For all of the attention the neat color screens have gotten– and they are pretty neat– what strikes me about the iPod, and the iPod Touch, is how much of the navigation is text- and list-based. Sure, it'll play movies and TV shows, and show you album cover art, and the little screens are surprisingly easy to watch (though I have a much more satisfying time watching things I'm familiar with, probably because my brain is filling in details that the screen doesn't actually show). But you don't use icons to navigate: you navigate through text menus.

I've spent a little time playing with Cover Flow, and my sense is that it really doesn't make the iPod interface less logocentric: it provides an additional piece of information to, for example, help you tell the difference between two different versions of "Midnight Train to Georgia," but it doesn't put you back in a world of folders or desktops.

Likewise, every cell phone has a nice color screen, and some icons that when clicked on will take you to different functions; but again, most of the time, I'm selecting from menus and scrolling through lists. The screen may be pretty, and the color is nice on the eyes, but my cell phone company hasn't tried to create a little information landscape on the phone's screen. Instead, they've gone with menus.

That's probably a smart choice, because menus are probably easier to work through, particularly when you're only giving partial attention to the interface. When I was sitting at my desk, I could focus on icons and folders, but when I'm walking down the street or driving (not that I ever do that), I want something much simpler: looking at simple words, or better yet, one-touch dialing.

Creating devices that let you interact with information while interacting with the world reduces the appeal of interfaces that are themselves little worlds. And I suspect that shifting from situations where we devote the bulk of our attention to graphical interfaces, to ones where we devote fragments of our attention to text-based interfaces, reduces the relevance of the the idea that we're interacting with an alternate dimension of information.

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