Amar Sagoo

25 April 2005

Becoming one with the machine?

For the past few weeks, when using my computer at work, I have been getting unpleasant onrushes of a feeling that’s probably best likened to motion sickness. What seems to happen is that right after performing an action such as scrolling or dropping down menus, my eyes move automatically, anticipating where my attention should be focused next. However, that reflex is sometimes quicker than the software, and this mismatch between what I expect and what I see seems to have a slightly nauseating effect. I think it’s especially bad with animated (smooth) scrolling under Windows, because it behaves quite unpredictably, with some increments moving faster than others for no obvious reason. That’s actually where I started noticing this feeling, but it has since started happening in other, non-animated situations as well. On a few occasions it’s been so bad that I had to look away and my eyes started watering, although that could have just been general tiredness of the eyes. I also think my awareness of the effect makes it worse.

Have I used the computer so much that my brain has started treating what’s on the screen like a real environment, or have I just not noticed before? I’ve been using computers for more than half of my life now (and I’m only twenty-five!) and very regularly for the past nine years.

I’d quite like to test myself with an eye tracker and see if my eyes really move ahead of the graphics, and if so, by how much, and how it compares to less extreme users.

Maybe how we use animation and how responsive our systems are is more important than we think, especially with what’s happening with Aqua on the Mac.

Update: I think the worst situation for this motion sickness is when the expected motion doesn't occur at all. That happens quite often when using the mouse's scroll wheel in Windows IE, because this sometimes stops working until you click in the window's content area, as if it lost its focus.

I'm also pretty sure now that my eyes watering is a separate problem, but the two combined make for a particularly unpleasant scrolling experience.


  1. It sounds to me like your brain may be mixing your Mac and Windows experiences together, and this is causing some side effects. Try changing the resolution on your machine, which will force your brain to reset it's 'muscle memory expectations' of where things should appear. Or, get a faster machine.. so things appear where and when you expect them to!

  2. The reason I picked up on your post subject line "Becoming one with the machine?" is because I have just experienced a slightly disturbing "at one with the machine" moment, myself, which suggests that as a regular user of a keyboard my perception of the interface between what is happening on the screen and what is happening in my own environment is becoming less distinct.

    I have just found myself repeatedly trying to nudge a persistent house fly off the edge of my laptop screen with the cursor arrow.

    At least for the few seconds before I became aware of the futility of this action, the cursor appears to have become an extension of my hand, and my brain apparently unable to make the distinction.

    From time to time, I also find myself picking up books with the fleeting expectation that I'll find the reference I'm looking for more quickly if I use the "Search" function...