FACE THE INTERFACE:

Another year has passed--the year of 1997.  In the Computer and
Internet world, some people equate 3 real months as a research-
and-development (R&D) year,  so we may as well look back on the
equivalent of 24 months R&D time.  This time,  again,  has been
marked  by continuous major hardware and software  advancements
so rapid and numerous  that common adjectives used in journals,
magazines or periodicals   -- such as "skyrocketing", "speedy",
"swift" and so forth -- to describe this phenomenon of seeming-
ly unceasing progress have reached inflationary status.  On the
other hand,  computer critics have also become more cautious to
prematurely label new technology as "revolutionary" or "innova-
tive", until it has stood the tests of time and practice. After
all,  we do not consider it mere coincidence  that the publica-
tion  you are reading right now  -- the PsychNews International
--   either online such as  on a website   or offline like in a
mailing program or as a printout is still (and will, for a con-
siderable time, stay)  based on the most popular and one of the
most  basic Internet services  that have remained very much un-
changed over the years: Emailing.

The  purpose of  this writing is  to point  out  that technolo-
gical interfaces  that change over time   with ongoing hardware
and software progress  may reach a stage  in which  dead  ends,
forced choices and oversystematically channeled information and
communication opportunities are preprogrammed to increase. This
could lead to parallel developments  with unproductive doubling
of administrative overhead, redundancy in the use of resources,
and  split the  so-called global village into multiple villages
that may or may not interconnect well.

An example where the impact is grave,  although not on connect-
edness,   are  the  announcements  of two  major  international
statistics  and mathematics software  suppliers to  concentrate
product development on certain platforms at the expense of

More threatening are the changes  that the World Wide Web (WWW)
has undergone. Even during and before 1996, WWW access problems
were  not fully solved  as reflected in  the frame-noframe  and
text vs. graphics-enhanced versions of  many  websites.   Also,
important  basic features  of web design  always  tended  to be
neglected,  such  as  intuitive navigation features  and  "wise
webbing" for color-blind and disabled users.   In comparison to
the recent dilemma, these pitfalls are relatively minor.    The
newly advanced technologies  almost force individual users into
choosing between specific soft- and hardware.   This phenomenon
is rooted in factors  or controversies such as:  The war of the
web browsers (mainly the  4.x versions of the Netscape Communi-
cator and Microsoft's Internet Explorer),  the status  of  Java
and JavaScript,  the  officialization of  the  Hypertext Markup
Language (HTML) 4.0 standard that has  outpaced the majority of
current websites and web browers that are largely based on pre-
vious standards.    Keeping track of all developments to ensure
that "complete compatibility", quickly goes beyond the capacity
of  webmasters and web designers  that  do  not do this  for  a
living -- e.g. content-providing and website-managing psycholo-
gists and psychiatrists  may have to choose  among alternatives
that  would  exclude segments of the Internet  population  from

Complete compatibility is one of the many myths of the computer
world  that  has had its share in keeping the computer program-
ming industry  alive  by providing more  Macintosh(TM) or  Win-
dows(TM) look-and-feels,   more  cross-plattform  applications,
more software  emulators,  more  promises...  and more and more
specifics  and details need to be  taken into  consideration if
_sufficient_ compatibility is to be ensured.

Similar  changes  are  on the horizon  regarding  communication
infrastructures  and superstructures.  The philosophy of inter-
connectivity has  been partially undermined by the emergence of
diverse  closed  intranets  using  the  Internet  technology --
which,  not to be misunderstood,  should not be judged as some-
thing  "wrongful" or "evil",   but  as  a  phenomenon of trans-
porting good productivity tools  into new contexts with changed
meanings  as a by-product  of diversification  and development.
Parallel structures with  bottlenecking gateways may also arise
with the advent of new Internet address styles (new domains and
subdomains), and Internet-like broadband ventures or large pro-
prietary networks. New open supernet and subnet structures also
exist in the minds of many networking developers.

The  "habituation time"  to get used to  available technologies
that  may quickly become outdated  spans  by far a greater time
interval  than the speed of the  industry dictates.  However, I
assert that we always need to keep in mind that information and
communicational technologies or computing as such are mere "in-
struments" for the PsychNews readership and most other Internet
users.  Once enticed to continuously upgrade,  update, optimize
configurations and to tune, many have fallen -- at least tempo-
rarily --   into the trap of turning the tool into the purpose.
One key of prevention could be "downward compatibility"  in the
sense of holding on to time-proved conventions, and cultivating
existing means and quasi-standards that have been reliable over
time:  Like emailing for private use and public spaces, and web
design based on the   previous standards HTML 2.0 and 3.2.  The
plain  usenet newsgroup and mailing list format  for discussion
and  information acquisition and distribution likewise have not
reached  their full potentials yet,  let alone profitable usage
of  chat services for real-time professional meetings  or wide-
spread  ftp usage  as central pickup points for "psych"-related
documents and data. There is still much worth to be done at the
grassroots technical level.

Rather than  rushing into initially exciting fads and fashions,
no matter how appealing, we need to watch emerging developments
both critically and openly,  hold on to "technology that works"
and  fill existing physical niches  with the  content needed to
have a more rewarding time on the Net for research and practice
aims. This is not a Credo to good old times, nor am I proposing
to go backward, but to step back for taking "a closer look from
the distance".  Technology must provide the interfaces to allow
cumulative and productive growth of connectedness. If newer in-
terfaces  --programs, techniques or computers-- restrict rather
than enhance  communication and information  access potentials,
_we_ must create the compatibility needed for the wanted syner-
gistic effects, by reflecting what our common denominators are,
and  what it is that is really important  to us:  Staying toge-
ther or falling apart  -- technical state-of-the-art interfaces
or enriched human interactions.

Sunkyo Kwon, Dipl.-Psych.
PsychNews Editor-in-Chief