The next human-computer language

Through all history, there’s a rule that always applies. With every new technology comes a brand new language.

Of course, I’m not only thinking of spoken words. I mean every technique that we use to think and express our thoughts like painting, sculpting, engineering, design clothes, wearing clothes, using the computer/phone, flirting, dancing… We “speak” so many non-spoken languages that the famous phrase from Wittgenstein; “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”, sounds like a joke. Our brain seems to be excellent at taking the world and turning it into a language.

But what intrigues me is how the process works. There are many good examples of this through history. Like how we colour blue didn’t exist until we invented it. Or how the invention of cartographic maps allowed our brain to think in terms “places”.

But one of my favourite examples can be found in fine arts:

There are less than 20 years between these paintings. It’s amazing! They are utterly different. What happened? — Technology.

Monet was able to paint such impression of a sunrise because, unlike Henry Lane, he was there. Painting at the waterfront at sunrise. And he was able to do it -and do it quickly- because he had access to a recent invention of that time: Paint tubes. It’s amazing how something so simple has changed art so much. But only 20 years more, with the spreading use of photography, the “painting language” changed even more.

Every time we change technology, technology changes us back.

The internet itself is another good example of this. We have access to an astonishing amount of information with a simple click -or tap-. But this is completely changing the way we think and read. Due to this big amount of options we have became unfocus and distracting. And due to this, the content has changed with us. News articles are shorter than 15 years ago. Books are also shorter and use simpler language. Millennials prefer shorter clips than a whole 90 mins movies.

We have less memory than we used to and slower at math. In exchange, we are way better at image processing, text scanning and creativity.

Technology is certainly changing us. Our relationship with our computer is getting tighter and tighter and the vocabulary we use to talk to this new men best friends is becoming very important in our every day.

Let’s talk about computer interaction!

We have seen how the mouse quickly changed the old command line computers. And we have witnessed how the 90’s all mighty mouse faded away against the current king Touch Screen.

Through all these years, the language we use to communicate with the computer has changed dramatically, getting more and more natural on each step. I still remember this amazing Ted talk where Jeff Han showed to the world the future multitouch interactions. It’s rather cute hearing people wowing at gestures that we today take for granted.

It’s been ten years since touch screens are in our lives. Developing the “tactile” language hasn’t been easy and took a long time for users and designers to “speak” it correctly. But now, we could hardly go back to Windows 95.

Nowadays, we don’t use buttons, contextual menus and windows as harder as we used to. We use natural gestures; we pinch to zoom, swipe to answer, we scroll scroll scroll, animations respond to our movements, scroll down to refresh, tap tap tap, slide left to dismiss, and a million more. Our relation with computers is closer and more natural. We became kind of touchy with them.

Nevertheless, is not good enough. A lot of people still struggle with computers, especially when they want to do something more that just browse.

Most users still have a hard time when it comes to creating using the computer. I would say that Bret Victor is right when he says that computers have trapped us in a cage. Computers are way too similar to books when they could be much more. Creativity is extremely related to perception and all that we get from current PCs, tablets and phones is a 2D image in a tiny square. That’s not natural.

Virtual and Augmented reality

Now, we are on the edge of a massive step — VR and AR — That will change not just the way we use computers, they have the potential to release us from the cage. They can give us back our spatial perception, our kinetic memory, depth sense and size awareness.

As Designers and Developers, we need to understand this new medium so we can unleash it’s potential as a tool as soon as possible. It is our task not just to copy old computer interactions and just put it in 3D. Stop using floating windows, buttons and scrolls in VR. Think in terms of rooms instead of windows. Grab instead of click. Object instead of Icon. Invent new words for this new language. Brand new words that will make our world limitless.