The Daily: Books in Brief

By Ian Volner
The Daily

harwood_interface coverAmid the eulogistic flood following the death of Steve Jobs, few paused to consider that perhaps Apple’s greatest technological contribution was a negative one: The Mac has effectively hidden the processes of computing, obscuring the computer’s messy innards behind a simple façade. Getting a look inside the box, and figuring out who stuffed the wires in there, is one of the pleasures of “The Interface.” John Harwood, professor of architectural history at Oberlin, reaches back to the birth of the digital age to uncover the secret history of the computer-as-object, tracing its postwar development through an endless series of recursions — designers shaping information, information shaping design, the computer as both subject and agent of architecture. The author dredges up company archives to map out the early collaboration between IBM and the designers (Eliot Noyes, Paul Rand) who gave a visual identity not just to computers but to computing as a cultural phenomenon. In a world becoming every day more seamlessly “virtual,” we may forget that “the world once wondered: What would a computerized world look like?” “The Interface” reminds us of the question, and tells us who answered it.

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