horseless carriages 07.27.2007, 8:18 AM
posted by dan visel
The "horseless carriage" is a metaphor that's often used when talking about reading in a screen environment. Offhand, I don't know where this metaphor started (McLuhan probably had a hand in it). The idea is basic but important: thinking about the automobile as a "horseless carriage" blinds one to what an automobile can do that a carriage can't do. Metaphors carry historical deadweight.
Last year the Noguchi Museum had an exhibition on collaborations between Isamu Noguchi and Buckminster Fuller which featured video of Fuller's Dymaxion car. Through the wonder of Youtube, you can watch it now:
One of Fuller's main innovations with the Dymaxion car was to move the steering from the front – as is the case when you're steering horses from a carriage – to the rear, which mechanically makes more sense. This video of the Dymaxion car is revelatory: we have so much trouble parallel parking because automotive engineers unthinkingly followed old models.
gary Frost on July 27, 2007 8:47 PM:
Of course another classic example of precursive crippling is the legacy keyboard array of the typewriter. The Linotype array is almost twice as fast. Curiously this computer imparement is voluntarily sustained. Why can't screen based readers be more resilent?
Gary Frost on July 28, 2007 9:31 AM:
Another relevant circumstance is the outright impasse. The automation of typesetting was persistantly frustrated by the failure of attempts to mechanically set type. A number of paradigm shifts were needed before invention could go forward.
The outright impasse factor may be at work today with screen based book equivalents.
Robotchampion on July 29, 2007 9:33 AM:
Horseless carriage that is a great metaphor I will defintely use it. My team is used to the Henry Ford oft quoted words: "If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would've said faster horses".
I find it interesting but frustrating that innovations take huge steps forward but the technology is adopted only incrementally. Often not at all until the new innovated can mimic the prior technology.
If we could only develop a culture that was more technologically literate and open to technology...