Saturday, August 2, 2008


I wonder if TV producers have a technical term for that sickening fake cheerfulness these breakfast-TV folks are indulging in? You'd think they'd have a word for a thing so instantly recognizable and ubiquitous, deliberately scripted (?) into thousands of breakfast shows broadcast around the world each morning. I'm reading Susan Jacoby's "The Age of American Unreason",  an indictment of the dumbing down of America, and one of the things it makes me wonder about is where all the idiocy comes from.  Take this breafast cheer mannerism, how did it take root? Did it just evolve, or was it the fruit of conscious effort?  The way newscasters tilt their heads as though trying to peer inside the camera, is that a way to deal with glare, or is it wisdom from a journalists handbook? And that demeaning silly banter that even the crustiest - or most dignified - old reporter must engage in when shuffling notes and transitioning to the sports reporter or weather forecaster - is that a contractual requirement, or just comme il faut in the news business?  I know, these are trifles, but along with a million other artifacts of popular culture they bring humankind down a good many notches.  Jacoby drove me back to Postman's prescient (1985) "Amusing Ourselves to Death" and a very timely reminder of the important distinction between Orwell and Huxley's dystopias; Orwell's is imposed from without, while Huxley's - and ours - is self-inflicted, a much more irresistible threat!  Resist it!!! To encourage me in these thoughts, I've also been looking at  Ed d'Angelo's Barbarians at the Gates of the Public Library: How Postmodern Consumer Capitalism ThreatensDemocracy, Civil Education and the Public Good. Although I probably qualify as a postmodern consumer, I would like to see a revival of the notion of libraries as an institution to foster civic education and the public good and a little less scrambling  to keep library patrons entertained and happy with games and web2.0 attractions.  I suspect what brought on this rant was my recent encounter with a word I'd not heard before: a Norwegian library announced a new website that would be rich in "funology." Trembling with indignation, I googled, and discovered that a whole book had in fact been written on the topic as early as in 2003! (Funology: From Usability to Enjoyment) Amazon describes funology thus:

the move in Human Computer Interaction studies from standard usability concerns towards a wider set of problems to do with fun, enjoyment, aesthetics and the experience of use.

Traditionally HCI has been concerned with work and task based applications but as digital technologies proliferate in the home fun becomes an important issue. There is an established body of knowledge and a range of techniques and methods for making products and interfaces usable, but far less is known about how to make them enjoyable.

Perhaps in the future there will be a body of knowledge and a set of techniques for assessing the pleasure of interaction that will be as thorough as those that currently assess usability.

Nothing wrong with injecting fun into learning and usability I suppose, but before you know it "fun" will be a prerequisite for everything we do. Goodbye pleasure deferment, and the quaint notion that drudgery is sometimes required to get your reward.

fun Look up fun at

1685, v., "to cheat, hoax," probably a variant of M.E. fon "befool" (c.1400), later "trick, hoax, practical joke," of uncertain origin. Stigmatized by Johnson as "a low cant word." Older sense is preserved in phrase to make fun of and funny money "counterfeit bills" (1938, though this may be more for the sake of the rhyme); sense of "amusement" is 1727. See also funny.

1 comment:

  1. Ho, Petter

    See these: