I’ve been reading the essays on Chris Crawford’s website, Erasmatazz. There is a lot to learn there, especially in the How To Think and How to Make the Computer of a Medium of Artistic Expression series. I also appreciated his essays on Programmers and Aging and Culling My Library, which resonated with some of my own experiences, and the many book recommendations scattered throughout his writing.

Crawford’s essays about interactivity and interactive storytelling caused me some consternation. The work I do in my personal projects related to museums and humanities is object-centered by nature, because museums are object-centered by nature. Digital exhibitions and digital collections like the ones I build with Paradicms do not exploit the medium of the computer, but are merely presentations of objects, as Crawford describes in “The Computer is a Processing Machine”:

… the computer is therefore fundamentally a machine for processing data, and that Process is the soul of the computer. This is what makes the computer so revolutionary, for no previous medium of expression had anything like Process. Every single previous medium of expression is fundamentally based on Objects – data.

All prior media of expression are Object-centered. Literature, the theater, music, poetry, cinema, painting — everything before the computer was necessarily about Objects, not Processes. The computer can present many forms of media: novels, poetry, cinema, music, and visual arts. But it only presents those media. They can just as readily be presented without the computer. The unique capacity of the computer is its ability to process.

How creative and engaging can you be in a medium (digital catalogs) that imitates an older medium (books) that itself tries to capture another old medium (the museum space)? Adding hyperlinks could take a digital presentation beyond the linearity of a book, but you’re still working within the confines of what Bret Victor would call “pictures under glass”.

The best you can do is create or curate interesting content (objects) and hope the appeal survives the limited medium. I’ve tried to do that in recent projects. It feels unsatisfying at best and futile at worst.