I've been thinking about the implications of the advances in gestural technology shown at E3 this week: Microsoft's Natal and Sony's 3D input technology. On reflection, I think the most profound implications for gestural technology are going to be in the longer term.
Just as we've been raising a generation of digital natives, the Wiimote and its more advanced successors could be the start of a generation of gestural natives. Remember that Marc Prensky's digital native thesis is that children raised in an environment of interactive technologies are wired differently than their digital immigrant predecessors. They perceive, process, and respond to information differently. (Not better or worse, just differently.)
It seems quite possible to me that children raised in an environment that includes the Wiimote, Natal, Sony's 3D input device, and even (to a lesser degree) multi-touch devices such as the iPhone could be wired differently from their D-pad-using older brothers and sisters. We've raised a generation of kids who are extremely proficient at making what is a fairly abstract connection between mashing buttons and seeing the corresponding results on the screen. (Yes, if you're in or past your early 40s, this is one of the reasons your kids thrash you at video games.) This next generation, the gestural natives, could be equally proficient at using gestural interfaces.
So what are the implications of this? I can think of two.
First, as the children and teenagers of today become the workforce of tomorrow, they're going to expect gestural interfaces and be frustrated and less productive when they don't have them -- just as the digital natives of today are frustrated by linear, non-interactive experiences. We have to be aware of this as we’re designing the information technology tools of tomorrow.
Second, we all know from experience that great artists generally have to grow up with the media in which they practice. Think about the earliest movies that you truly enjoy, not as historical artifacts, but as legitimately good cinema. My guess is that most people would point to Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Citizen Kane, or Casablanca, all movies made in the late 1930s and early 1940s -- a good 25-30 years after The Birth of a Nation. I would argue that modern media and Moore's Law are shortening cycle times for familiarity with new technologies, but still, I don't think we're going to see the full potential of gestural input until we have designers who have been immersed in it for many years. So don’t look for the DW Griffith of gestural input -- much less the Victor Fleming, Orson Welles, or Michael Curtiz -- anytime in the immediate future.