Invitation to a design of life

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
15 August, 2017
Editorial: 124
Fecha de publicación original: 16 junio, 1998

No candle shines until it is put in a candelabra and lit

Working on the new version of which we are putting together (the 3.0version, in digital era terms), many of the issues we have been debating in these editorials and, more especially, at the Congress for Electronic Publication have started to come up. The magazine now has sufficient wealth of experience to have two kinds of archives: the first, visible to everybody, is where we store everything published so far. The other, invisible to the reader, is where all the accumulated knowledge gathered over the nearly three years of its existence is stored in different places, but above all in e-mails. The combination of the two is a new element in the design of electronic publications which practically doesn’t exist outside cyberspace. The possibility of systematising this relationship with readers, directly and without intermediaries, giving it an outlet via new ways of relating to them and discovering new information areas that were not contained in the original concept, or of being able to establish innovative areas of cooperation with sectors which were not there either at first, opens up a whole new field of knowledge which, at the same time, belongs entirely to the Information Society: that of the design (engineering) of electronic publications.

Design, in this sense, does not just, or least of all, mean the graphic and formal aspects. The question (forgive the cliché) is a lot more complicated than that. It’s only now that we have sufficient experience, incipient knowledge and a certain capacity for synthesis that we are able to begin to express the content of this new discipline. The fact that this has happened in just the three or four years of the Web’s existence testifies to the speed at which knowledge is generated in digital society and, at the same time, highlights the opportunities it generates within a wide range of human activities that we are only just beginning to explore. A lot of the things that we have expressed at a theoretical level, are starting to take shape as a result of our accumulated experience and the possibility of this being recorded in formats from which work methodologies can be systematised and developed. And, now we can also see more clearly how very different areas of knowledge can come together, not merely to establish relationships between them (multidisciplinary) but also to find points of synthesis from which new knowledge, new areas of learning, can be generated. For example, the explosion of electronic publications has created an outlet for communication in an artificial environment (cyberspace), where work on engineering design and the development of simulated (virtual) worlds had already been going on for some time. The meeting point for these two worlds, it seems to me, will not mean merely “injecting” a communication component into simulated environments, but, instead, the creation of new areas of knowledge based on the design, applications and development of electronic publications –the creation and management of communication flows– in artificial environments created “ex-profeso”. When this happens, we will discover that many of our present ideas as to what makes up communication, originated in the “natural” process where this communication occurs — the real world–, and will differ substantially as they move to the “artificial process” which the digital environment proposes.

Of course, this will seriously upset present research and teaching systems, where either openly or surreptitiously, different ways of conceptualising knowledge confront one another. Some remain firmly anchored in the above-mentioned natural processes, while others, on the other hand, move towards the understanding of the world based on Information, which is much more than the 500 TV channels available in every home and the usual content of a newspaper or radio placed on the Internet.

Within this reformulation of knowledge, the interactivity factor appears as a distinctive, characteristic trait, perhaps recognisable in some of the activities belonging to traditional processes of communication, but, in fact, radically different when it is understood as the basis for the design of social activity in cyberspace. Interactivity, as a historical facet of knowledge in the digital era, has become notably richer over the last few years and is beginning to emerge as the thread which holds together this new reality being constructed in computer networks occupied by human beings. By means of interactivity we learn to live again, but in a very different world from that which we have known, with a dynamic governed by rules as new as those we would have to invent for building and managing a colony on the moon. The bridges between science and technology which are needed to take into account this new reality have hardly begun to take shape. We don’t even have a culture which takes on board this new knowledge yet, although there are indications of it all over the place. And we always go back to the old question namely, where do we begin the construction of this new environment and with what objectives in mind.

Translation: Bridget King.