Against Direct Manipulation

I’m debating on Twitter about Direct Manipulation.

Here’s the first part of my discussion unrolled. I’m asked why I think the Desktop Metaphor has held us back. My response in 6 tweets. (Note that there’s a lot more good discussion in further pushback I get)


Complicated for Twitter. Here’s what I think in summary.
Computing is about using language to tell computers to do things. Language enables grammatical composition and ever increasing levels of abstraction and expressivity \1
The great mistake and delusion in computer history, of which the desktop metaphor is just one major example, is “direct manipulation”.
People seem to love it and always fantasize about more of it … \2
But with DM you switch from finding more and more elegant ways to TELL the computer to do stuff, to just “doing it yourself”
And once there’s a DM metaphor for a task, rather than a linguistic instruction, it gets locked-in and evolution grinds to a halt. \3
Basically every time DM came to a paradigm of computing, the vocabulary froze at that point and at that level of abstraction.
Desktop metaphor for launching applications and WYSIWYG word-processors looks like the 70s. \4
File systems look like the Mac finder from the 80s.
Spreadsheets started as a promising mix of visual and linguistic, but have DEVOLVED into mere grid-drawing GUIs.
IDEs haven’t even changed their menu layout since the 90s \5
All progress in computer science depends on maintaining that gap between you telling the computer to do something, and what the computer does.
All the force multipliers live in that gap. Close it and progress stops. \end

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