online: 1 february 2005

25 january 2005 thinking about websites as prostheses

(rough draft)

What did i learn at the webdesign conference?

A lot! But the first to come to mind are what i am calling 'prostheses' - three thoughts:

a. the wisdom and fruitfulness of making websites accessible to people with disablements - reduced vision, hearing, or movement of body or of hands (and thus better for everyone!)... Yes... I think i learnt most from Helen Petrie's presentation - in which she showed that (with XHTML and CSS stylesheets) it is possible to adapt any website to the disablements or peculiarities of any person...

b. ...and as i listened to her saying this i realised that there is a vast and pervasive disablement that most of us share (though we may be unaware of it): a reluctance or inability to adapt to the flexibility inherent to digitised technology after we have adapted to the rigid mechanical technology that preceded it. I believe this is an obstacle to realising most the ideas explored on this website - and perhaps a main obstacle to resolving 'world problems' and the danger of 'destroying nature'... it possible, i thought, to design websites that enable us all, despite the extent of this perhaps invisible disablement, to overcome it?... (odd syntax - perhaps a sign of something brewing?)

...with this thought i decided to experiment, in these public pages re web design, with overcoming this near universal disability that i have elsewhere called 'tragic adaptation'*... (and if it is actually a tragedy then it is because we cannot adapt, with or without changes in web design... but at present i do not believe that...)

c. ...i use the word 'prostheses' because i like to see all designs as this - because they cater for disablements we all share: eg our universal inability to run at the speed of a car, to speak at the distance of a telephone, etc. This is i believe a refreshing way to begin any designing!...

*see the following references to 'tragic adaptation':

'the internet and everyone' page 201 (from 'following giraldus')

and page 503 (from 'synopsis part 2')

and also (from draft of 'letter 25' in 'the internet and everyone' - a Word page v1.1 found by Macintosh Sherlock search of my hard disc for 'tragic adaptation'):

What came to me as I woke was a new conception of time, one consisting of 'connective moments' which can, if we let them, link any moment to any other.

Unlike clocktime, this newtime does not shrink each moment into equality with all others (as does the clock) because each can occupy as many seconds or minutes or even hours day 'It went in a flash' says another. 'I didn't notice the time' says a third.

Being non-mechanical or irregular, and tied not to machines but to body rhythms, newtime is the pathway of escape or release from 'the tragic adaptation' of people to machines. Once machine time is refused as a basis for human action newtime is immediately present and each moment can become alive. One and zero become superimposed and opposites connect.

As I began to think of time in this way I realised that it allows me to change my identity, or to recognise that I have several. The clue or signal which led to this thought was the little piece of software that lets you choose date and time formats (on my computer you can choose between British, USA or 'custom'). I suddenly saw this as not trivial but profoundly releasive in that you can choose to act as if inhabiting any time-place on earth or beyond. And then I remembered Gertrude Stein's insistence that, to write your masterpieces, you have first to let go of your social identity and act only in response the thing that you are doing, choosing God before Mammon, as she puts it, and forgetting all else.

(these pages are designed to be read with the window set to two-thirds of the screen width)

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