In “The Power of Representation,” Norman alleges people are attracted to representations that retain a sense of the materiality belonging to the thing being represented.
If this is true, his discussion of reading in the opening parts of the chapter bear revisiting. Written language does not retain its conceptual parent’s, oral language, materiality—it’s visual rather than aural, and has to be re-translated into the aural in order to constitute it into oral language. Norman suggests that we have moved away from our ancient and medieval forbearers’ preference for dialogic reading (reading in which another, communicative reader is inserted into the experience, through marginalia, discussion, etc.)—our ancestors evidently read more reflectively than we do—and into a state of passive reception. We trust our authors to represent the world for us in a way that makes sense and is useful.
(What follows is not an argument but an observation:)
Nowhere is this clearer than when the old technology, writing, becomes integrated with the newer technologies of new media. We’re part of a culture in which we love to advertise our trust in modes of representation devised by others, indeed, we have developed a whole communication category, social media, through which we can advertise our affiliations with various cultural modes—or ontological commitments, if you prefer. In this way representation shapes our expectations for the real in which the material operates, not just the other way around (try getting a job without an ontological commitment to LinkedIn). Because these modes are there for us to fall into–we only interrogate them publicly if we are privileged enough to be in high-level governance or associated with the academy-we don’t get to do the kind of representational work that Norman describes for ourselves, the kind that is parallel to speech-into-writing. Rather, we are attempting a reconstitution: highly representational writing (short hand?) into normatively representational writing or speech (how does LinkedIn need me to present myself in order to work the system?).