Keyboard in China, ASCII and innovation
Wandering around the interwebs to look for curious content, I ran across this interesting short paper by Basile Zimmerman: "When the Chinese Teach Us What Technology is Really About" (ESSHRA International Conference 2007, Towards a Knowledge Society: Is Knowledge a Public Good?). The paper uses the example of dedicated software that allows to turn things written on ASCII keyboard in Chinese (See the image above) and employs it as metaphor to investigate the relationships between computer technology and society. Some excerpts I found intriguing:
"To build on Akrich and Latour’s famous model of the door-closer, If a technical object is used, and if its content cannot be modified by its user, its content will be –during its use– imposed on the user. (...) If one is given chopsticks to eat an ice cream, who should be blamed? The waiter, the ice cream, or the chopsticks? For many Chinese today, it is the ice cream. After over three thousand years of use, I hear today’s Chinese computer users, including engineers, confronted to alphabet-encoded difficulties, complain on a daily basis that “the Chinese script is not convenient.”
Fortunately, for many reasons, the Chinese characters will not disappear soon. Attempts to abolish them have been made in the past and failed miserably. Besides, China is currently investing billions in science and technology innovation. Its computer industry is growing at an amazing speed and the first computers with homegrown Chinese processors came out this year. Graphic tablets and competing interface systems, better suited to the Chinese script, are under constant development. How will computer technology look on the day it was re-invented by the Chinese to fit their own needs? "
Why do I blog this? Browsing material when preparing the upcoming LIFT Asia conference makes me encounter intriguing types of research (from Geneva though). Although I am not a great fan of the "how technology impact society" meme (preferring the more complex notion of co-evolution or intertwined relationships), I found this topic intriguing from a more general perspective, beyond current research projects. The same question can be asked for OS or cloud computing apps.