Filling in the gaps: the odd 'digital rituals' we perform to make technology serve us


User interface design has been increasingly focused on gestures — from Apple's use of pinch-to-zoom to the Charms bar in Windows 8 — because they're (usually) a natural and easy-to-grasp way of navigating in the digital world. There's certainly lots of interest in these sorts of gestures, but an essay by Dan Hill on City of Sound takes a closer look at the sometimes humorous, often bizarre postures that we perform in the absence of well thought out design. The gestures highlighted in the essay — shaking a mouse awake or walking around looking for a strong Wi-Fi link — offer an intriguing look at where human nature meets technology.

"A user approaches a sleeping computer and attempts to rattle it into life by hammering the keyboard or aggressively waggling the mouse."

Dan Hill's essay is a foreword to a recently-completed book called Digital Rituals, which flips things around and puts the focus on how the human body interacts with technology. The book is worth a look for its list of gestures, but the success of Hill's essay is how it is able to highlight the way humans can still be animals when they interact with technology.

One example is the so-called "Google Map Smear," in which one makes a gesture to pre-cache a small area over Wi-Fi when you're without mobile data. It's a case where technology fails us and we take whatever means necessary — often animal-like ones — to fix the problem and make devices serve our needs. Now that Google Maps has a polished pre-cacheing system, the gesture is dying away, but there are many design gaps that stand in the way between our minds and our devices that have necessitated other "digital rituals." Don't even get us started with iPad photography.

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