Rob Walker looking at the odd Graffiti language that Palm use on its Palm Pilot devices:

It seems unnatural to have invented symbolic stand-ins for the alphabet. Then again, the alphabet itself is a symbolic stand-in; the word “tree” doesn’t reflect the reality it refers to any more naturally, as it were, than its Graffiti Alphabet equivalent.

Graffiti was an odd duck, but if you mastered it you could really fly with writing on a Palm device — I know this because I used to take notes on one during class. Walker interestingly started off talking about how silly he feels using gestures on an iPad, and then he found his Graffiti reference card and realized how silly that was, concluding something interesting:

Probably what matters more in judging post-language touch-screen navigation — and this can be a little unnerving — is watching a toddler, too young to speak, but evidently hard-wired to swipe and poke, navigate a touch-screen device. No reference card required.

This is a really interesting difference between mid-90s tech and modern technology. More and more we are creating devices that we interact with in a seemingly natural way — except that none of it is really natural because we’ve never before had to do some of these things before.

Sure moving content is natural, but why does pinching to zoom seem natural? I mean it’s not like I walk around my house and when I come across a photo I have printed, I then walk up to it and pinch it to make it smaller or bigger… Never before have we used that gesture in this way, yet the first time you do it everything clicks and it makes no sense to do zooming any other way.


Posted by Ben Brooks