Here, I will focus on Brooke’s treatment of perspective and some implications thereof. Brooke defines perspective as “a method for displaying three-dimensional objects and/or scenes in two-dimensional space” (120). In this sense, perspective applies equally to new and ancient media. A plot of farmland in ancient Sumeria becomes a series of carved lines on a flat stone surface; the burning Twin Towers become an image in a newspaper, a webpage, or one’s writing.
Following this further, Brooke’s definition of perspective clearly connects to Gane and Beer’s discussion of interface. If inferfaces are “conceptual and materials devices that occupy and enable key points of contact within networks” (53), then they necessarily create and use perspective in the way they translate information into two-dimensional space. In other words, interfaces influence their users through the way they enable “contact” among computers and humans. Emails, for example, communicate messages much differently than phone calls and vice-versa. As Brooke himself notes, “interfaces position us perceptually” and “redescribe our perspectives” (140).
For example, the "interface" of the word cloud structures the reader's perception and understanding of the information by highlighting the re-occurrence of words. The reader knows "perspective" is important but not why. The relationship among the words remains hidden and/or open to interpretation. The "interface" of the simple table below, however, constructs a very different perspective on the information, one in which the relationship between Brooke's "p-words" and the rhetorical canon emerges.
Brooke also explicates the “paradox of perspective – a term that, as Keith Moxey (1995) notes, can mean ‘either one point of view among many, or the point which organizes and arranges all the others’” (114). Perspective’s ambiguity facilitates the analysis of interfaces and new media in general. After discussing Richard Lanham’s “at/through distinction” (133), Brooke adds, “Just as we look at and through interfaces, we also look from a particular position (140). Hence, we can examine the full, dynamic range of a user’s experience of an interface, from “invisibility” (looking through it) to “visibility” (looking at it) to how it structures what information we see and how we understand it (looking from the interface).
Though Brooke seeks to create a comprehensive “rhetoric of new media,” I believe his discussion of perspective alone provides an invaluable framework for analyzing, understanding, and creating new media. Writers and designers should ask themselves, “How – and to what extent – does an interface shape or position the user’s perspective, sensual experience, comprehension, and/or knowledge?” Such a question foregrounds the complex, dynamic user-experience of an interface and the impact of this experience on human understanding. Foregrounding the “at/through/from” continuum of user-experience can either illuminate the positives and negatives of an existing interface or facilitate the thoughtful production a new one.
Gane, Nicholas and David Beer. New Media: The Key Concepts. Oxford: Berg, 2008. Print.
Collin Gifford Brooke. Lingua Fracta: Towards a Rhetoric of New Media. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2009. Print.