December 19th, 2003

classic beard

Review: Computers as Theater

"Computers as Theater", Brenda Laurel, ISBN 0-201-550060-1, Addison Wesley; review is of the 2003-02 printing, the 1993 edition.

Main comment: fascinating but unsatisfying. While the material covers an interesting perspective, the actual "real world" examples are all dead, cancelled, or unsuccessful projects - the working systems mentioned are all bad examples, things that we are lead to expect would be improved by this new way of thinking.

That said, it does spend enough time on "dramatic foundations" that one could probably use this as a text in an intro to theater course, and that might be a good light in which to use it; it leads one to think about interaction, about treating the computer as a medium and not a tool. That's the fascinating part - it presents an entirely different model for thinking about computing, with sound logic in the presentation. As the preface says, "This is a book to lead to reflection and pondering", and it certainly is.
It isn't a book for learning a practical new approach, although it may inspire someone to invent one. It may even give some comfort - if you've done UI work and felt "this is all wrong", this approach may at least help you understand why. I'm not sure these insights can be applied at any level less than "invent a new system"; something like Croquet, and even that might not have sufficient scope.
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