The Postmodern UI

A tweet dragged me over to an article in The New Republic, a journal that I’m allergic to.  But the article, America’s First Postmodern President, an article I read with my product manager hat on, an article about the postmodern world we live in, that world one of constant, high-dimensional, directionless change. And, it became obvious to me that I’m not a postmodernist while Agile is exactly that, postmodernist, so our software products reflect that.

No politics here. The quotes might go that way, but I will annotate the quotes to get us past that. I’ll ignore the politics. Here the discussion will be product, UI, design, Agile.

For Jameson, postmodernism meant the birth of “a society of the image [textual/graphical/use case] or the simulacrum [simulation] and a transformation of the ‘real’ [the carried content] into so many pseudoevents.” Befitting the “postliteracy [Don’t make me read/YouTube it] of the late capitalist world,” the culture of postmodernism would be characterized by “a new kind of flatness or depthlessness [no heirarchy, no long proofs/arguments/logics/data structures/objects, a new kind of superficiality [the now of the recursion, the memorilessness of that recursion’s Markov chain] in the most literal sense” where “depth [cognitive model/coupling width/objects] is replaced by surface [UI/UX/cloud–outsourced depth].” Postmodernism was especially visible in the field of architecture, where it manifested itself as a “populist” revolt “against the elite (and Utopian) austerities of the great architectural modernisms: It is generally affirmed, in other words, that these newer buildings [applications/programs/projects/products/services] are popular works, on the one hand, and that they respect the vernacular of the American city fabric, on the other; that is to say, they no longer attempt, as did the masterworks and monuments of high modernism [No VC funded, logrithmic hits out of the financial ballpark], to insert a different, a distinct, an elevated, a new Utopian language into the tawdry and commercial sign system [UX as practiced now] of the surrounding city, but rather they seek to speak that very language, using its lexicon and syntax as that has been emblematically ‘learned from Las Vegas [for cash and cash alone, no technlogical progress/reproduction by other people’s means].’”


For Baudrillard, “the perfect crime” was the murder of reality, which has been covered up with decoys (“virtual reality” and “reality shows” [and UIs]) that are mistaken for what has been destroyed. “Our culture of meaning is collapsing beneath our excess of [meaningless] meaning [and carrier impositions], the culture of reality collapsing beneath the excess of reality, the information culture collapsing beneath the excess of information[multiplicities in the spherical geometry where every model models correctly in the financial/cash sense]—the sign and reality sharing a single shroud,” Baudrillard wrote in The Perfect Crime (1995)…[political cut].

What a mess. It helped that this morning in those Saturday morning, light-weight introspective moments the notion of objects being bad and the reassertion of functional programming was leaving us with data scattered in the stack via recursion, and the now of the current system stack with nothing to see of how we got here. But, hey, no coupling between functions through the data structure, something I never thought about until some mention in the last two weeks. Yes, the alternative to static would do that no matter how dynamic.

Those gaps, the architecture enabling us to escape those tradeoffs we make in our products, the slowness of feedback from our users, and the feedback from the managers as if  they were users–a flattening–all disappear when we go postmodern when we go flat. That jack in your car becomes worthless when your emergency tire goes flat.

Still, I don’t like surface without depth; the absence of a cognitive model; the painted on UI, the erasure of the deep UX/CX/BX/MX/EX, the surface of machine learning, and programmers writing up other people’s disciplines as if those disciplines don’t matter, as if those years spent in school learning that discipline doesn’t matter, that the epistemical/functional cultures don’t matter–but, of course, they don’t matter because the programmer knows all the content they encode, and management lays off all the content anyway ending their Markov chains and filling their resumes so full of cheap labor jobs so you can’t see the underlying person. Thirty years of doing something, the depth, forgotten because seven years have passsed, still leaves depth, but hiring passion over experience gets us to that postmodernist surface. Oh, well. When better is surface, when success is reality TV, when…

The danger of a sweeping theory like postmodernism is that it can produce despair.

But, that’s where we are this morning, sweeping theory, not despair.



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