Re: What moves on screen?

Subject: Re: What moves on screen?
From: Arthur Comings <atc -at- CORTE-MADERA -dot- GEOQUEST -dot- SLB -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 27 Jun 1994 09:11:32 PDT

> ....... Epigraph ...................

> When Hui Neng (Sixth Patriarch of Ch'an [Zen] Buddhism; 7th Century A.D.)
> visited a monastery while in disguise, he saw two monks arguing about
> a banner streaming in the wind. One monk insisted that the wind was
> moving, but the other claimed that the banner was moving. Hui Neng
> said "Neither the wind nor the banner moves; it is your minds that move".

> -- The Altar Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch (from *Ch'an and Zen
> Teaching* vol. 3, trans. and ed. by Lu K'uan Yu)

> ....... Introduction ................

> Computers display information on monitor screens. On the screen one
> or more windows allow users to see and interact with the data displayed.
> In a class titled Text Editors, Prof. J. Mack Adams of
> New Mexico State University posed the following philosophical
> question to his students:

> ....... The Question ...............

> Is a computer window unmoving while data scrolls behind it,
> or does the window move across files of unmoving data?

> ...... The Issues ..................

> Opinions among the students were divided, just as the class itself
> was, between Tech Writing students and Computer Science students.
> All of the Tech Writers thought that the window was fixed and
> the data moved, while the CS students believed the opposite.

> Is this division of opinion significant? Do Tech Writers and
> Programmers have fundamentally different points of view regarding
> the data-display metaphor of today's computers? And how may the
> advent of multi-window computing have affected these points of view?


If we are to take a cue from the epigraph, we shouldn't waste our time
arguing about false choices. Why argue about what's the correct
*metaphor*, unless you like such endless arguments? If it's a metaphor
and not a question of physical fact, we can argue forever, and the best
resolution we could get is some kind of majority vote.

If we're talking about a computer display, why get committed to one
inaccurate representation rather than another? The information doesn't
move, and neither does the display.

The information is static -- at least at the moment that it's
transmitted -- and it is constantly being redisplayed (depending partly
on the monitor's refresh rate and partly on whether the user's using a
scrollbar). We display the part we want to see. It appears to move --
that's what a cat or dog might think if they saw it -- be we know it
doesn't, and I don't see what we gain by pursuing that deceptive

As far as the question of tech writers vs. programmers goes, if they
all really bought into this duo of false choices, I'd be disappointed
in both camps.

Arthur Comings

Corte Madera, California
atc -at- corte-madera -dot- geoquest -dot- slb -dot- com

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