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#linking-together
Title
# linking-together
j

Jimmy Miller

05/27/2023, 1:59 AM
i

Ivan Reese

05/27/2023, 3:06 AM
First, this is beautiful. But I notice an absence in these lamentations. The internet brought "flat, uniform, common platforms and protocols, not eccentric, local, idiosyncratic ones" and "impoverished our sense of computers as a tool for private exploration rather than public expression". The smartphone "gives only dim flashes of computer-feeling" — and offers no dreams, no sense of place. The post goes on. And to all of it I will predictably counter: Games! Computer games give the same feelings they always have, perhaps now more than ever. These are quintessentially computer feelings; board games, card games, games of sport and chance, none of these have the same character. "Does [computer gaming] give you a sense of possibility?" Absolutely "Does [computer gaming] feel like a place that you can inhabit and shape and reconfigure?" Yes, but not just in the obvious virtual worlds sense, nor mods, nor discords either, but a place within culture, a place within a community, a place within an ever-expanding dialogue about the nature of being. Gaming invites players to deepen their relationship with the computer-as-feeling. For how many of us hypertext hipsters was gaming the first wander through the garden of forking paths? How many self-professed serious programmers hold gaming as the olympian highest-tier of performance, engineering, and hackery? How many hobbyist tinkerers discover the curvature of their curiosity in Blender, Unity, and a cracked copy of Substance? As I see it, gaming keeps the old, weird, personal spirit of computing feeling alive.
k

Konrad Hinsen

05/27/2023, 5:26 AM
I can relate to all that's said, having started my "computing" career in the Z80/6502 era. But it's not helpful, in my opinion, to center the discussion on the word "computer". It has indeed changed meaning, like many other words have, but I doubt that's a serious issue for anyone. Taking the word "computer" out, I'd summarize this lamentation as "we used to have a human-scale programmable medium (in the McLuhan sense), and now it's gone". To which @Ivan Reese’s answer "games" is a valid but incomplete reply. A game can be inhabited, shaped. But that's far from the power you get from a device that you can program at a much lower level. Back in those days we could write our own games from scratch, manipulating the screen at the pixel level. In a modern game, you are at best a king, wheras in the personal computers of the 1980s, you were god. Perhaps more importantly, in the old days, we could program the virtual universes of games, but also relate to the physical and social world we lived in. Plot that function from the math homework. Impress mom with a printed and decorated copy of her favorite cake recipe. Computers were empowering, in a very general way, and that's something we have mostly lost.
i

Ivan Reese

05/27/2023, 4:41 PM
Impress mom with a printed and decorated copy of her favorite cake recipe.
Yeah — that hits for me too. I think what's changed here is that the veil of ignorance has been pulled back. Now that everyone has a computer, no one is impressed by little works of multimedia. Everyone could decorate their recipes if they wanted—at least they feel that this is on offer—but it's not worth the bother. The early computer let you play at a kind of magic, and now everyone knows these tricks.
p

Personal Dynamic Media

05/27/2023, 5:10 PM
That essay feels very profound to me, but since it doesn't actually describe the feeling it centers on, I'm not sure if I understand the authors, or if I'm just filling in the details for myself like people do at a fortune teller. The computer feeling that comes to my mind when I read this essay is the sensation of being directly in control of computations, of being able to make the computer an extension of my own mind and thinking and memory. All of my thoughts turn to programming environments, which seems to be something the authors are arguing against. For me, when I think of things that gave me the computer feeling, I think of Basic, Lisp, Smalltalk, Forth, Logo, SNOBOL, Unix, Awk, Perl, and spreadsheets. Python is an objectively better language than most microcomputer basic implementations, and it has many of the same advantages and flexibilities as other dynamic languages, but it never gave me that same god-like, master of the universe feeling. I cannot articulate why and I wonder if people who learn it as their first language feel the same magic that I felt with other languages. I think this might be a helpful lens through which to observe the loss of control over computation that we have experienced on average, but I think it needs more refinement before we can really be sure what it's actually saying.
k

Konrad Hinsen

05/27/2023, 7:45 PM
Both the democratization of magic (@Ivan Reese) and magic wearing off with time (@Personal Dynamic Media) are probably part of the explanation. I started with Basic: pure magic. Next was APL: magic on steroids. From then on, new languages could offer new perspectives but not a new shot of magic.
p

Personal Dynamic Media

05/27/2023, 8:39 PM
@Konrad Hinsen I've never used APL, but I read a book about it and I can see how it would feel magical, too. I'm not sure if I'm describing magic wearing off with time, or if it's just that today's things have less magic. I agree with the authors that modern phones and tablets don't offer the same feelings as what we used to call computers, and I think it has something to do with them giving us less control over computation.
k

Konrad Hinsen

05/28/2023, 4:57 AM
@Personal Dynamic Media Maybe it's less control in a relative sense? Most of what I could do with my home computer in the 1980s, I can do on a tablet today. But I had full control over my home computer, to the point of opening it up and peeking and poking at the hardware. The tablet is a black box in which I can access bounded caverns of magic called "apps". And some of them are more drudge than magic. Another perhaps relevant difference is that my home computer was just for fun. The smartphone is a compulsory accessory for navigating modern life.
w

wtaysom

05/29/2023, 5:19 AM
The essay is kind of definition-by-negation. Whatever "computer" feels like, it's not what what we get in phones. I maybe than into a concrete example last night where a friend was complaining about how with Siri, you can (for example) ask it to define a word, but there's nothing you can do to have it read out the definition, which given their vision difficulties, would be great. In that instance the "computer feeling" has something to do with non-compossibility. We have an agent (of sorts), you can talk to it, but you cannot actually use it to control the device. My friend did explain how you get the iPhone to read the text, but it involves some elaborate series of swipes with multiple fingers positioned just so.