[Humanist] 27.123 thresholds?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Jun 14 23:00:56 CEST 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 123.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sat, 15 Jun 2013 06:50:42 +1000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: thresholds?

For many years there's been an assertion travelling around that at a 
certain threshold computing systems become so quickly responsive that 
the user ceases to filter the questions he or she is asking and simply 
tries out whatever comes to mind. This has been discussed here before, 
but as far as I can recall the assertion has proven to be simply that, 
though one wonders how anything of the sort, how often experienced, 
could be proved. There seem to be other thresholds involving computing 
systems, e.g. in the resolution of images on screen, the weight of 
laptops and so on. But we have such an adaptive ability that I suspect 
the issues at play in human-computer interaction are very complex indeed.

Early issues of Radio Times, for example, show adverts of televisions 
suggesting that images produced by the grainy, flickering, 
black-and-white screens made or could make people believe they were in 
the midst of the action depicted, e.g. in a film of the American Old 
West. Surely radio broadcasts of concerts were similar, however greater 
the measurable fidelity of a live performance might be. Once better 
technology comes along, suddenly (as with my recent acquisition of an 
iPad with "Retina" display), the older becomes perceptually far worse. I 
say "becomes" advisedly but am not sure of my ground.

What do we learn from experiences like this? Where are we going with it? 
Clever circuitry in digital cameras now allows one to produce 
photo-realistically inferior images to evoke a former time, when photos 
resembled the degraded images. Is this simply nostalgia? When we live 
with robots of the sort depicted in the Swedish series "Real Humans" 
(Ä„kta Människor -- watch it tonight, it's brilliant), will we turn away 
from them to clunky Robbies for aesthetic reasons? Does the rejection of 
the technically better have an element of fear to it?


Willard McCarty, FRAI / Professor of Humanities Computing & Director of
the Doctoral Programme, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
London; Professor, Research Group in Digital Humanities, University of
Western Sydney; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
(www.isr-journal.org); Editor, Humanist (dhhumanist.org);

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