The term that really drives me up the wall, though, is web page. Page connotes something stable, unchanging, and definite. A book page exists. A book page is. A web page, on the other hand, is a vastly more complicated structure. It is a set of instructions blasted from a server farm across the globe through fiber-optic cables, then interpreted by a computer’s hypertext transfer protocol browser and displayed by a light-emitting-diode screen. All this, by the way, is happening in real time—reconstituted at each millisecond through a unique and contingent tangle of systems—and is supported by the constant churn of the power grid, itself (incredibly) still commonly powered by burning coal. So instead of web page, I’d prefer the term web performance, which would remind us that this information is both immediate and ephemeral. In a sense, it is thousands of coal-powered virtual Rube Goldberg machines—lined up from end to end—that power our Facebook Paper apps on our iPhones.
I’ve come to think of software applications as a form of digital architecture: some are places of concentration, others of collaboration, others clearly just for fun. Software’s emotional dimension is crucial: how it feels dictates how it’s used. (Architects hire environmental psychologists; tech companies hire user-experience researchers.) Microsoft Word is the quiet room at the university library; personal Gmail is a dirty kitchen, yesterday’s plates stacked next to the sink; Twitter is an overcrowded bar. Throughout the day, I’ll move from room to room, alternating between solitude and socializing, work and play.