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1 Introduction

The human-computer interaction is a relatively recent phenomenon. Back in the 70s when computer hardware was terribly expensive, all programming efforts went towards optimizing the use of limited computation, and the few specialists were sufficiently motivated to learn tedious but machine-efficient operations. As hardware became more powerful and less expensive (which it continues to do at an astonishing rate) designs could evolve away from convenience for computers towards convenience for people. When the technology became practical for casual work by versatile people who demanded and could suggest still more intuitive methods, interaction design emerged as a substantive discipline. [McCullough, 1996 – p.115] Steve Jobs, when he founded Apple Computer, set out to build “computers for the rest of us”. The idea was to enable people who were not computer experts – like artists, educators and children – to take advantage of the power of computing. The graphical user interface (GUI) popularized by Apple was widely successful, widely copied, and is now the standard interface of almost all personal computers. Thanks to this interface, people from all walks of life use computers. Parallel to the GUI development, computers expanded their roles from business automation into personal communication and visual arts, and as the internet connected so many of us into an extraordinary ecology of “voices” the notion of virtual space was created. On the one hand the Net eliminated the traditional dimension of civic legibility, you cannot say where it is or describe its shape [Mitchell, 1995 – p.10] and on the other hand the architectural space as we knew it from physical environments was supplemented by the virtual space. [Schmitt, 1999 – p.67]. A common critique of that new development was that personal relations would suffer with the emergence of the information age, but contrary to that view the information infrastructure was more an improvement for the physical infrastructure than a threat. It actually

Physical Computing:

Using Everyday Objects as Communication tools

Fig. 1 Apple II, advert. from 1975 [source: www.1000bit.net/ adverts.asp]

Fig. 2 The Mac OS System 1.1 Graphical User Interface [source: http://www.guidebookgallery.org]


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