Over the past three millennia the paper on which we write and read evolved into something with more or less standard proportions and orientation. We grew accustomed to reading on paper that is about 1,5 times higher than its width. This may have to do with the fact that text on paper evolved from the papyrus scroll with one column in a vertical orientation into a scroll with a horizontal orientation where the text is placed in a series of columns next to each other. Later on this horizontal scroll was folded ‘concertina’ into a book like thing. Eventually the codex-format emerged from this folded scroll. Ever since the invention of the codex in roman times, books have always been higher then its width except for rare, silly artistic endeavors. Reading text is done best on vertical oriented pages also known as ‘portrait’. I call this the page paradigm.
In the meantime another paradigm emerged from theater. When performing a play it is more practical to have actors act next to each other instead of on top of each other. This and our natural ability to see more in width then in height, made it logical that all performances in theater are in majority oriented in ‘landscape’. I have not yet discovered a theater with a stage that is higher then its width. Today we’ve grown accustomed to watch theater, movies and television where the height is smaller then it’s width. I call this the stage-paradigm.
And then came the computer. At first it did not have monitors al all. Input was done with punch cards and output was generated with printers that used chain paper (like a scroll!) that was folded vertically alas. The standard was that 80 characters were printed in a single line the same way as that a single punch card represented a line of text with 80 characters. (72 to be precise because the first 8 characters were used for a numeral identification of the punch card) The use of this chain paper was cumbersome and it did not take long before some computer nerd thought of using a TV screen for depicting the computer-output. And at this point a terrible mistake was made. Since an analog television depicts an image in horizontal lines, the development of the necessary software was easier if you kept the screen as is. But they should have turned the screen 90 degrees and program a few days longer! The unfortunate end result was that text, that needs the page paradigm, was shown on a device that was designed for the stage paradigm. And by God, have we paid for this mistake! I think that it is accountable for 90% of all user interface misery. The one on one remediation of the typewriter into a keyboard that is wider than its height made things even worse. A laptop is an unfortunate amalgam of a broad keyboard and a widescreen television.
To make things even worse, multimedia was invented and that required the stage-paradigm. So no correction of this mistake was done although I do remember some monitors that you could turn 90 degrees. But they did not catch on for we grew accustomed to the mistake the same way as we grew accustomed to the qwerty-arrangement on our keyboard. Not in a thousand years we’ll get rid of this design decision by Christopher Latham Sholes.
But for the computer screen there is still hope. The next few years we will fully embrace the tablet as our primary tool for entertainment with its tilting mechanism. As a result the laptop will finally become the machine for which it is best suited: text editing.
Therefore I’m proud to announce the next MacBook pro.
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