Shoulders or Shoelaces?

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Morgan Benton
New Jersey Institute of Technology

We stand but on the shoulders of giants.
For Sir Isaac Newton, perhaps, that was true. Yet many of us are still hanging on at the breast pockets, belt buckles, and shoelaces of the giants. You have to give us some credit, though—the giants were a heck of a lot shorter in Newton’s day.


My father likes to tell the story about a particular field trip he took when he was a senior in high school. All of the students in his typing class got on a bus and drove to a town an hour a way to see


Information technology is pervasive—it is all around us, all the time—and it is only becoming more so. Deborah Johnson (2001) points out that, although humans have collected information about one another for almost as long as we have been collecting information, personal privacy has never been in such danger as it is now. She lists five reasons why this is so:

  1. Computers have raised the scale of information gathering to new levels
  2. Computers allow new kinds of information—e.g. transaction generated information—to be collected easily and inconspicuously
  3. Information distribution and exchange have risen to a new scale
  4. Computers can magnify the effect of erroneous information, and
  5. With computers, information about us can endure much longer than before (p117)

Privacy is not the only thing at risk. There are many examples of negative impacts of information technology on people, and it should be clear that as the technology becomes more ingrained into our everyday existence, the potential for small numbers of people to inflict great harm on great numbers, whether intentionally or unintentionally, grows too. The potential for this harm places a great burden on us, both as designers and as the teachers of young designers, to make sure that young learn not just how to build systems, but to build them well.


Patterns and pattern languages have emerged as one of the most powerful vehicles for passing on not only our design knowledge, but our design wisdom as well. Therefore understanding patterns and how they can be put to best use is a subject worthy of our attention.

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