The Importance Of Better Text Tools comment

This might seem a little biased; text explaining why text is important.
Well it is...


Developing better text manipulation tools on computers seem to be very much on developers back burners of these days, probably as the other media are more glamorous and we finally have quite a few machines capable of dealing with the high bandwidth glamour data. It seems the higher the bandwidth the data is, the higher bandwidth tools are thrown at it. Hey, there is more to play with right? First text then still images, next audio and moving images, 3D and on and on. But words carry thoughts right?! Thoughts are pretty darn high bandwidth!

Benjamin Whorf's notion that language shapes the way we think puts some serious pressure on word processors. Word processors haven't really evolved since MacWrite. Word processors still remain very linear, very abstract (copy into the ether & paste) creatures. Word processor. Language tools, aren't trivial letter to mom devises. " changed the pressures of natural selection and so changed the structure of man." Sherwood L. Washburn (Scientific American Sep 1960) "...we are now coming to realize that humans and the machines they create are continuous..." Bruce Mazlish (The Fourth Discontinuity, p5/4) It's not like the machines we use, the media, isn't a part of us.

What would dear old Marshal say if he was around to see how we have squandered our language/thought manipulation tools? The opportunity for high bandwidth media has taken us for a ride, swooping us over the digital landscape so fast that we can barely make out the importance of low bandwidth, high context text data as we are sucked into the hot-rod CPU maelstrom. But yo! Hold your horses, there are other ways to go. We have to stop and smell the chocolate.

I'm not a high bandwidth luddite, mind you, I love playing around with high bandwidth data. All night long, Photoshoping, Brycing, Infini-d-ing, Premiereing... But the evolution of those tools is pretty obvious. However I feel like we are letting an important part of our communication life, and good old intellectual life, slip away in the cracks of only high bandwidth media r&d.

Our common, shared, knowledge is our external DNA, according to Stephen Hawking. Well, a lot of our knowledge anyway, is in the form of words, text. Text, text, text. This stuff.

Aristotle carried around the most fluid and flexible computing environment; a sand box. Vannevar Bush had his concept of the Memex, which emphasizes working by association. Alan Kay came up with the idea of the Dynabook and later the idea that a computer interface should mirror the ease if use of paper, with the computer intelligently interpreting what the user wants to do.

We are still so far away from getting an information environment which is as fluid as Aristotle's sand box yet provides us the rigidity and 'magic' that only computers can provide Do we need to wait for another revolution, or can we get there by making relatively incremental changes to what we already have? I'll have number two for one hundred please.

What about simply adding a small scratch area to the right of your word processor window, where you can drag sections of text, so you'll be able to see what you've 'copied'. Remembering what you'd 'copied' before was not always easy. If the text is too large for a single line, it will get collapsed with "..." after it, denoting that there's more there. Drag as many sections of text over as you like, re-order them if you like, and drag them back and have them expand when they hit the page. This way you'll know what pieces have been taken out and which may need to be put back.

This little scratch area needn't be tied to a word processor though, it could be there of to the side when you surf the net, allowing you to simply drag the info you want over to the scratch area on your machine. There shouldn't be anything to stop you from dragging images or even 3D objects over, giving you a small preview image of this type of data. This scratch area could be expanded to fill the screen, giving you a totally fluid work space.

This would be a relatively easy thing to implement, but it would allow us to manipulate text, thoughts, ideas, more fluidly than we can now, and it wouldn't require us to learn something completely new, and of course, you'd keep all your current compatibilities you have now.

And all will be jolly.
I'm glad you agree, after all, if you didn't consider text important, you wouldn't be reading this. Or reading anything at all for that matter...

Please see "System Wide Scratch Area" in the Implementations section for a more detailed description of what the system wide scratch area might be like.


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