If I had a Facebook account (which I don’t because I grew tired of Mark Zuckerberg’s shenanigans and deleted it last month), I would download Khoi Vinh’s new Mixel app, just to try it out (but then again, maybe I wouldn’t: forcing users to login via an entity known to exploit and deceive its users is lame).
But…I’m skeptical. Skeptical for two reasons.
The times when I have practiced art for art’s sake, my most satisfying medium – after photography – has been collage. For me, it holds a special appeal, an opportunity to get off the computer, away from all screens, and into the tactile, haptic, texturized dirt. Collage is all about having an excuse to get my hands dirty and gooey and glue-y and rough. It’s about poking and scratching and cutting and texturizing and the cheap thrill of almost cutting off your finger tip with an Xacto knife. It’s about physically altering matter and the haptic pleasures (and sometimes dangers) that come with it. It’s about getting physical and making messes. It’s about getting shit all over the table and all over the floor while creating something beautiful and then touching it. It’s about your hands helping your brain figure stuff out. It’s about Shop Class As Soulcraft.
The Mixel app offers none of this. Sure, there are great social media tools at your disposal and the ability to share and remix and derive, but what about texture and three dimensions? That is what collage is all about.
The same people I’ve seen ooh and aah over this app on Twitter today are the same ones who this past week passed around this particular criticism, poking fun at Microsoft via a compelling-and-with-merit “Pictures Under Glass” theory:
What did you feel? Did it feel glassy? Did it have no connection whatsoever with the task you were performing?
I call this technology Pictures Under Glass. Pictures Under Glass sacrifice all the tactile richness of working with our hands, offering instead a hokey visual facade.
Is that so bad, to dump the tactile for the visual? Try this: close your eyes and tie your shoelaces. No problem at all, right? Now, how well do you think you could tie your shoes if your arm was asleep? Or even if your fingers were numb? When working with our hands, touch does the driving, and vision helps out from the back seat.
Pictures Under Glass is an interaction paradigm of permanent numbness. It’s a Novocaine drip to the wrist. It denies our hands what they do best. And yet, it’s the star player in every Vision Of The Future.
Dare I say this stance is hypocritical?* Dare I say this is six of one, half a dozen of the other? Dare I say that I’m growing weary of this Vacuum of Enthusiasm? Why are “Pictures Under Glass” reprehensible when one entity does it – albeit for different purposes – but yet lauded and praised when done by someone else?** We should all be more critical of the stuff we’re making. Because really, we owe it to ourselves. We owe it to our planet. We owe it to the people we design things for.
*I write this critique on the advice of Alexandra Lange to be meaner: “When you are primarily writing a sweet review, it is important to add a dash of pepper. Love doesn’t mean you have to love everything.”
**I have long admired Khoi’s work at the New York Times and as you can see, I’m a fan of his Basic Maths WordPress template. But I am also an aspiring design critic. A deep, dark, cynical and full-of-piss-and-vinegar one who’s practicing her chops.