The Changing Face Of Interaction

The first machines were mechanical devices man developed and operated with his hands and feet. Over time, machines were supplanted by automated devices, which in turn were superseded by electromagnetically operated devices, until the transition eventually to the digital world. We stand now on the brink of devices that can be controlled purely by thought.

The first mechanical system programmable by a series of commands was actually a textile loom used in 1728. The logic was very simple: a card with holes punched in it would tell the machine in what order to perform its operations. Morphing frequently over time, systems programmed by punched cards continued to be used in electronics up to the mid-1970s.

Although the first patents were issued at the beginning of the 1820’s for the writing machines that can be regarded as the father of the typewriter, which ushered in a new era in man’s dance with paper, it was only in the 1870’s that a writing machine in the true sense of the word entered our lives. But the mechanical clack of the typewriter, which was part and parcel of office and academic life up to the end of the 1980’s, is no more than a dusty memory today.

The basic interface of human interaction via digital devices large and small today, the keyboard came into being in the 1930’s with telegraph machines that could be hooked up to typewriter systems via electricity cables thereby making it possible for texts to be sent as electrical signals. But the machine that offered us data on a screen in the true sense of the word, data entered on a keyboard, was a system called Multics, a 1964 joint production by MIT, Bell Laboratories and General Electric.

Gathering momentum at the end of the seventies and continuing to develop with mind-boggling speed right up to our day, the human-computer interaction has undergone major changes due to innovative approaches in the last ten years especially. Thanks to ‘touchscreens’, data could be entered with a special pencil on devices known as PDA’s (Personal Digital Assistant) at a time when mobile phones were not yet widespread. And on devices produced by firms like Palm, letters and numbers were designated by simplified signs to facilitate writing. During the process of mobile phone development, as PDA’s first began taking on the features of the telephone, changing trends eventually transformed mobile phones into PDA’s themselves.

The ever more diminutive dimensions of mobile devices coupled with consumer demand for ever wider screens led producers to eliminate physical keyboards altogether from the limited work area and offer touchscreen products instead. Apple sold some 700,000 devices in the first week of June 2007 when they introduced their iPhone to the market. And the underlying secret of the successful products marketed by manufacturers like Nokia, Samsung and BlackBerry lies without a doubt in the way they combine the digital environment with the human pleasure in touching.
What the process of technological development has shown us is that just as the once popular typewriters were abandoned for keyboards, so are keyboards going to give way to touchscreens in the not-so-distant future.

Mobile phones today can read our touch, and not only our touch, they can also identify the speed and orientation of our hand and arm movements and produce reactions. While game consoles like Nintendo Wii bring excitement and new experience to the world of entertainment with a simple joystick, the concept products promoted by firms like Microsoft and Sony can perceive human movements without using any control device whatsoever and convert them into commands. Research done in the universities is enabling man to takes steps towards eventually transforming human thought power itself into commands.

There is no doubt that man is a unique creature who sets himself goals, works to achieve those goals and succeeds. The speed with which we can transform our dreams into reality is increasing a little more each day. To give physical shape to our thoughts and dreams and be able to touch them is something our children definitely, and perhaps - who knows? - even we ourselves, will experience. Who’s to say whether our next goal will not be to turn what we touch into thoughts and send them out beyond the stars?