Interactive Shminteractive

Summer has to allow for some messing around, so I've been playing with this java-dealie-gizmo (okay, I guess I should call it an applet) that George Dillon (a Guru of Web) links to from one of his teaching pages. As you can see, I still have some bugs to work out in the code, but as it is you should be able to drag-and-drop the "interactive" pieces of the puzzle. (Update: Okay, well, maybe not: the applet is more friendly to macs than pc-ism.)

Interactivity is constantly touted as a buzz-virtue of the web. The web is decentralized, it's vast, and it's multimodal—but most of all, it's interactive.

The little applet (displayed above) makes me think about how the virtue we tend to ascribe to interactivity (dragging, dropping, rearranging, tweaking, co-creating) can be more of a wow-you-can-do-that? bedazzlement than a user-benefiting virtue. Interactive sites may engage users and make knowledge that is co-produced, but when we're in the user-position I think we often go W-O-W over interactivity simply because we're amazed such functionalities are even possible online.

Wow-you-can-do-that?, I think, drives a bunch of the appreciation of interactivity and is what makes some interactive pages sticky. (This is but one of a bazillion examples.) This is especially the case when what is "interactive" in an e-text is an electrified approximation (sometimes simulacral) of something that has been around in the unplugged world for some time. In my puzzle example above, we've known about little cardboard and plastic puzzles like this for a long time, and we've all futzed with them before; the e-version is not even as good as a cardboard or plastic slider-puzzle; it's just kind of amazing to be involved in the dragging-and-dropping of little images around on the screen.

This is all going to one conclusion: I find myself becoming increasingly reluctant to ascribe virtue to interactivity as I become equally adamant about the importance of rich content, be it interactive or not.


  1. Interactivity is a rhetorical move. It's only a good idea if it fits the occasion (i.e., if it works and serves a clear purpose). Otherwise, it's what we non-techies call "bells and whistles." Though, sometimes the whole rhetorical purpose of interactivity simply is to make us go, "coooool!"

    What's more interesting to me, though, is the theoretical (if not terribly practical) capability of html code/web browsers to create/display infinitely-nested windows (complete with scrollbars, if necessary). The layers in this post:

    my browser window (aka your page), your blog-within-the-page, and your interactive-gizmo-within-the-blog post. I thought e-literacy was supposed to be "flatter" than print literacy, but things are getting pretty deep around here.

    How far are you willing to take it?

  2. How far? Don't tempt me, baby, don't tempt me! (Multi-windowed post to follow ...)