Monday, June 18, 2007

Type and GUIs

Personality Types from Mental Functions

Now that we've defined the eight basic mental functions, let's put them together. Everybody has all eight functions, but we all prefer them to different degrees, in different combinations. Some theories (such as Myers-Briggs) hypothesize that there is a regular pattern to their preference, and others, like Singer-Loomis, hypothesize that they can exist in any order of preference. The first theory (the MBTI), constructs 16 basic Types; the second theory allows for up to 40,320 (8 factorial, or 8!). Temperament theory breaks it down into 4 Types, with an eventual extrapolation into the MBTI 16. I personally see merit in all of them, as they are just variations of the other, and each attempts to explain different aspects of the greater whole. It's not necessary at this point to get into the individual descriptions of both for the purposes of this blog and the idea of Mu, and there are a tons of sites and books that provide descriptions of the basic 16 and Temperament 4.

Personality Type essentially attempts to describe everyone's personal bias to Perceiving and Judging information. When we're talking about the mental functions of Thinking, Feeling, Sensing and iNtuition, what we're really talking about is the nature of the Ego and Shadow, two opposites within the greater Self. The Ego is the collection of the Mental Functions we prefer, and the Shadow is those mental functions we do not. The Ego can be thought of as a dynamic lens through which we perceive the world and ourselves, much like a kaleidoscope, reflecting and refracting. So really, the definition of Ego-centric is 'identifying with one's biases to the exclusion of the ones we reject' as opposed to self-centered, or selfish, as it is commonly used today. Sometimes egocentricity can be useful - and of course it can be equally hindering.

Type and GUIs

A computer interface that rewards the Ego-bias of a particular user is going to be comfortable and useful, but far too often we're presented with few options in regards to our GUIs, and it's usually computer software engineers of a select few types designing those GUIs for the masses. Most software engineers definitely do not match with the greater population in terms of Type, and changing from one Type of GUI to another is pretty well impossible with today's commercial platforms. Most engineers are Ego-centric, as are most people, and GUIs reflect that (compare the NT interface of Gates' GUI to the NF interface of Jobs' GUI). As an example, the early Internet and Web was definitely T leaning. The second revolution of the web, Web 2.0, or the Social Web, is definitely a response to that overwhelming Introverted Thinking (Ti) bias, a response that has gone to the opposite extreme of Feeling (of the Extraverted variety - Fe). But the Social Web 2.0 experiment is equally Ego-centric - all social networking is done very publicly, and everything is shared, by default, to the entirety of the Internet. You actually have to manually check *not* to share things. As someone who prefers Fi as opposed to Fe, I find most social networking sites embarrassingly public. [See my post about Personas for more about public/private profiles]

So what's a solution? It would be pretty wasteful to design 40,320 different GUIs, or even 16. But 8 (the number of basic mental functions) is a lot easier to handle - and they don't have to be complete GUIs for each mental function - merely lenses that affect the 'default' GUI. If we rank and sort these 8 to our particular subjective idiosyncratic makeup, we can easily create 16 distinct GUIs, and a sophisticated GUI system can conquer all 40,320 in a nicely dynamic system of views. An ability to switch or emphasize one function over another temporarily can make a GUI adaptable to our needs at the time - sometimes I have to work in list-making, detail-oriented mode. Other times I'd like to operate on a project in metaphorical dynamic mode. You may prefer the reverse. When we can share (or imagine) another GUI Type, we've achieved one pole of the Four Views - Theory of Mind (seeing how another sees). Sometimes we need to compromise our subjective biases into one collaborative space for the purposes of clarification - the Global View. Unless we're capable of illustrating the Personal Subjective view though, none of the others are possible, and we're stuck with an arbitrary Absolute view dictated by a GUI engineer of a particular Type bias.

So yet again, we have a triumph of the subjective.
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