Nicholas Carr on the permanence of digital

Nicholas Carr and Hideo KojimaI found this interesting.  Fans of Metal Gear Solid 2 know that the game comments on the permanence of digital information, portraying traditional culture as fragile and transient, and digital culture as a swelling “flood” of eternally accessible garbage.  Physical records conform to the idea of evolution and natural selection, he suggests.  But yesterday, respected technology prophet and bestselling author Nicholas Carr flipped this idea on its head by suggesting that it’s actually old, physical culture that remains accessible, and digital information that becomes swept away in a stream of technological change…

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So I’ve been paying attention to the Consumer Electronics Show 2012, and this stuck out to me.  It’s a pretty clever alternative to the QWERTY keyboard, and although it uses predictive typing (room for error) it could really catch on once you learn the basic premise.

The idea is to take all the characters on a normal keyboard and reduce them to only four “buttons”–those that stand on one point (F, I, T, etc.); those that stand on two (M, N, X…); those that stand on a wide base (Z, U, L…); and characters with a closed circle (@, P, O…). Snapkeys introduces four new icons for each of these new typing areas, effectively reducing the full QWERTY board down to only this:

CNET image of SnapKeys

These cute, emoticon-esque figures are hoping to kill QWERTY. (Credit: Screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET)

You can fool around with the idea here.  In order to teach how it works, it gives you something to type (found between the header and the SnapKeys buttons) and doesn’t ask you to click on a specific letter.  Instead, you hit the square that contains your letter, and it predicts which one you want.  The second test is to see whether you can type a sentence while only thinking about the four “types” of letters you want, and let the predictive system do the rest.

Once you start thinking about the alphabet in terms of closed loops, long bases, two points, and single points, it’s quite fun.  The developers say that this system will render QWERTY obsolete on touch-screen devices within three years, and I believe it.  I always thought adapting the QWERTY system to a touch screen was awkward, and this is exactly the kind of ingenious system that I’d expect to replace it.

They also mention installing this software directly into steering wheels, although they admit they don’t know whether this would make things better or worse for road distractions.  Can I make a suggestion?  If you’re going to let people type on their steering wheel, make sure it’s only enabled while the vehicle is parked!  My goodness.

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