That is my brief on philosophy. Now let’s talk about movies and media and presentational arts. This story is told at much greater length in POSSIPLEX .
The 1940s, the years of my boyhood, were media-rich. Usually, you experienced one medium at a time: magazines, radio, comics, stage and screen, and, of course, books. They all interested me much more than school or other kids. I drank in every aspect of every medium.
I adored the movies. (We lived in a very sophisticated part of Manhattan, so we saw more foreign movies than American.) I avidly studied the details of my comic books, from the language and visual angles to the dots of the color. And I listened to radio programs with every fiber of my brain.
I had four main media heroes in my first 10 years, and they are my heroes now: Walt Disney, Leonardo da Vinci, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Buckminster Fuller. They worked in different media, but in much the same way. Each was independent, visionary and original. All these years I have tried to be like them: independent, able to see what others could not, and creating new designs others could not imagine.
I also learned a lot about show business; I happened to have inside connections. I rarely saw my parents, who were divorced when I was born, but I learned a lot when I saw them. My mother became a star on Broadway in her twenties, and after she would take me to a Broadway play, she would take me backstage to meet the actors. My father was successful in another direction of show business. When I was ten, a new medium came along called “television,” and he became a top director in that new medium. I got to sit behind him in control rooms at NBC and CBS.
I got to see how all that magic was made: on stage and TV, the technicalities and tricks, the pressure on the actors and crew, and the bravery in real time. I took some of that bravery with me when I started giving my radical speeches in the computer world, telling computer experts how their field should be conducted.
By the time I got to college my father had put me on TV, radio, and the professional stage—not much, but enough to be confident.
At Swarthmore College I became a media innovator. I had my own little magazine. The first issue I did jointly with my friend Len Corwin. I did the others by myself. I figured out how to use the new offset presses to print a magazine for 32 dollars. I commissioned the cartoons from a great cartoonist, Russ Ryan.
Figure 17.1 shows Nothing #3, a very mischievous design. It was kite-shaped, and it had to be rotated as you went from page to page. I did it when I was 19. It cost more than thirty-two dollars to print, but not much more. The printer, my friend Ned Pyle, approved the mockup, but he was astounded when he saw the result. I had done it on my own without realizing.
Later that year I wrote and directed what I believe was the first rock musical, Anything & Everything. It was a rock musical (a play in which actors would burst into song), not a “rock opera”. But it had rock songs and a plot, and it came long before Bye Bye Birdie and Hair. Few have heard of it, but it ran at Swarthmore for two nights (as scheduled) in November of 1957. It is not in the official rock histories, but I think it should be.
My last year in college, I shot a 30-min comedy film, The Epiphany of Slocum Furlow (Fig. 17.2), which I think is the best thing I ever did. It is now available on YouTube. Because of the methods of that time, it took years to put the sound track on—not too well—but it tells a story and audiences laugh. I believe it shows that I was a competent film director from the start. I have never enjoyed any form of work so much.
Through all these lessons I came to learn that the presentational arts and media are all the same—writing, layout, diagrams, essays, poetry, and brochures; stage, screen, and radio. All these arts present ideas to the mind and heart with a variety of mechanisms, tricks of emphasis, sequence, and overview. And when we say “media” we simply mean the presentational arts as they get to be distributed in the world.
And in all these arts and media, the processes of designing and detailing are the same. Every part of every detail, in whatever medium, involves imagining how it will affect the heart and mind of the viewer (or reader, or participant, or user).
Movies are the pinnacle of the presentational arts because they bring together all the other modes—theater, graphics, sound, and more—with many, many mechanisms. Designing interaction was to be an inevitable new medium, requiring the same talents.