A Composite of Cyclopses
All of our digital notes are kept seen within this rectangular surface called a computer. We comb through them via a tiny window called a screen. But even using the word 'combing' seems disingenuous. That implies a social and spatial environment we walk through, scan, and analyze stacks of written word.
Far from the case.
The artist David Hockney once said that photograph “is all right if you don't mind looking at the world from the point of view of a paralyzed Cyclops.” I wonder if that is what rummaging through digital notes feels like sometimes – from the point of view of a paralyzed Cyclops. Folder structures are a flatland representation. We fumble over search bars and hyperlinks, yearning for an approximation of the real thing.
Perhaps that is what makes crate digging for vinyl records so appealing – a truly social and spatial experience of searching through knowledge, both knowing and not knowing what you might find.
But the web can capture that. Designer Ian McDonald saw this as one of the crowning virtues of the early web:
I think Theseus would have enjoyed the World Wide Web in 1997; the adventure and excitement that it fostered. Its labyrinthine shape full of passages, turns, tunnels, and the unknown. Websites often eschewed the formal navigation systems we have come to rely on and expect in favour of more open-ended or casual solutions. Moving around a site—much like moving around the Web in general—was a journey that embraced the forking, wandering naturing of hypertext and allowed the user—with varying degrees of agency—to choose their own path through cyberspace, the hero of their own self-authored epic.
But McDonald saw the homogenization of design made traversing the web bland.
Today’s active web design is enraptured with menus as a primary means to navigate a website. All user actions are predefined, and the journey through the material is as prescripted as possible in an effort to achieve maximum linearity.
We are once again turned into paralyzed Cyclopses, limited by linearity. It makes one wonder how to embrace what the web as it is rather than what it is not. Why replicate past structures when something entirely different beckons. What can we do with it?
For such a scathing interpretation of the camera, Hockney did some of his most inventive work in photography. These pieces represent not a single Cyclops but a composite of Cyclopses. With so many singular perspectives you start to see a grander picture.
Sounds like the web on a good day.