4.0430 Handwriting Technology. Why? (1/42)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Mon, 27 Aug 90 17:19:21 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0430. Monday, 27 Aug 1990.

Date: Sat, 25 Aug 90 11:34:45 EDT
From: "Adam C. Engst" <PV9Y@CORNELLA>
Subject: Handwriting technology. Why?

I've been seeing a lot of articles in the computer trade rags recently
about the handwriting technology being developed by Go (and funded by
IBM) and other companies like Grid. Most of the articles seem to laud
the ability to write on a computer screen as the next great leap in
civilization since the ubiquitous sliced bread.

What I wonder, and pose to Humanists, is what really is the use of
handwriting technology? I type far far faster than I can write, as do
most of the people I know. So it is not faster by any means as a text
input device. The fact that my handwriting is barely legible should be
moot since the computer will be able to translate any scrawlings
(eventually) into correct characters no matter how messy. There is of
course use in fields where workers must carry pads and clipboards and
write down or check off small bits of information but those fields are
fairly small in comparison to the rest of the computer users out there.

I think Bill Gates said something about removing the metaphor of the
mouse with a pen that could write on the screen, but it only removes one
layer of the metaphor, because every icon or screen object is itself a
metaphor for the information contained within. Another problem I see
with writing on the screen is that computer screens will have to become
flat and oriented like drafting tables. Otherwise users will have major
ergonomic problems with working at the computer for long periods of
time. (not to mention the fact that you will have to clean the screen
of skin oil all the time :-)).

So I fail to see the overall utility of handwriting technology for the
masses. Instead, it would seem to make more sense to concentrate on
re-representing the images and objects of the computer's world to make
it easier to manipulate them. The closest I see us coming at the moment
is the Data Glove work being done at MIT and other places. Perhaps the
problem is that we should try to avoid physical manipulations of
non-physical objects?

In any event, I would be interested to see other arguments for or against
handwriting technology from the rest of you.

cheers ... Adam

Adam C. Engst pv9y@cornella.cit.cornell.edu
Editor of TidBITS, the weekly electronic journal for the Macintosh.