Thursday, 13 March 2014

The Anti-Rotary Design Ethos

Only now can it be told.

Back in the day, which was of course the '70s, when things were last normal, I was still toiling under the yoke of my life-long button phobia, which only evaporated last year under the influence of rising oestrogen and declining testosterone.  I span various things off this, one of which was the parallel between buttons and wheels, and buttons and buttons as in fasteners and operating controls respectively.  I spared no mental expense in eliminating all things rotary and all things pushbuttony, and from this emerged a design ethos of sorts.

Firstly, wheels.  Here's a wheel:

On a shopping trolley this one.  This would not be acceptable in the '70s.  For some it was the Age of Disco.  For me it was the age of No Discs.  Everything had to be replaced by air cushions and hovercraft.  All surface vehicles had to glide on a cushion of air.  When it was later pointed out to me that even hovercraft, or Surface Effect Machines as I thought of them, the ground effect being too specific and defamatory since it's not merely ground but also water, quagmire and molten lava over which such contrivances can sally - even custard - themselves relied on rotary devices such as fans and propellers, my response was to come up with the peristaltic hovercraft, which frankly was a device which lifted itself by breaking wind.  This induced waves of pressure through tubes to aim jets of air onto the surface and behind the craft to move it around and keep it levitated.  Not a wheel in sight.

I extended the anti-wheel principle to all rotary components, including for example the cogs of clocks, the spools of cassette tapes and even volume and other adjustment knobs.  Knobs needed to be slide controls - longitudinal movement was fine, just not rotary.  Cassettes were to be replaced by solid state storage devices with no moving parts - this has effectively at long last come to pass now in the form of memory cards and sticks, although hard drives and Blu-Ray still exist - not part of the Urean utopian future I'm afraid.

Secondly, buttons.  This meant not only the fasteners but also any round devices or gew-gaws of any kind, including push buttons.  Since I was afraid even of using the word "button", I used to refer to them as "knobs", since twisty things, rotary though they were, were more acceptable.  I have a few thoughts about this, mainly along the lines that they represented skin lesions to my subconscious minds and therefore I extended a natural aversion to a novel situation.  Think blisters, pustules and boils - that's what buttons were like to me.  This was part of the huge spectral structure which used to rule my life.  Now peruse these:
A couple of computers from a few years after this.  The one on the left is the well-known ZX81.  The one on the right was the first thing I ever bought with my own wages, the Jupiter Ace.  The keyboards deserve a closer look:
(Apologies for this rather thrown-together montage but it's rather accordant with the image of the second keyboard, I think you'll agree).  In fact I'll do 'em again:

This is a typical early-'80s home computer keyboard, the famous "chicklet keys", crucially (for me) consisting of a series of push buttons projecting through a sheet of plastic - in other words, buttons.  It interests me, incidentally, that there seems to be an element of the horror of penetration here.  By contrast, here's the ZX81 membrane keyboard:

This has none of the buttony horror of the Jupiter Ace.  Instead it's just a sheet of plastic overlaid on a grid of wires which when pressed come into contact with each other and send a signal to the gubbins of the computer.  A "touch-sensitive" membrane keyboard, still occasionally found elsewhere such as in cheap safe keypads, but without the terror of penetrative keys.

A second principle not illustrated by these keyboards is the question of round controls, neither of which are had by these, unlike some other devices.

So, in Ure World, also perhaps known as the Caroline Timeline, the following principles applied:

  • No wheels, cogs, propellers, fans or any other rotary contrivances.  Instead, linear induction motors, peristaltic jets, magnetic levitation and the like.
  • No push buttons.  Instead, flat surfaces bearing rectangular legends which are either touch- or proximity-sensitive.  In other words, you just need to gesture in their direction to trigger the necessary action.  This is from a guy who suffered seriously from skin hunger incidentally and felt guilty about it.
  • No rotary controls.  Slide controls instead.  This could've been combined with the last but never was in my pre-teen mind.  I have no idea why.
  • This extended, as some people might be aware, to a whole complex of stuff about clothing from which I have only now freed myself.
Why am I bothering you with all this?  Well, to point out really the degree of restrictive structure and grid-like imprisonment which used to occupy my unwillingly male brain.  All this stuff, and this is only a small part, now forms an amusing game, but back then it was deadly serious and there was no known way out.  It's just weird that this whole thing, of all things, should have any connection with stuff like hormones and feelings, but somehow it did.  I never guessed it would just evaporate under the right influence.

Now I just look back, shake my head and think "what the heck was all that about?".