There is a great book by Lev Manovich called "Software takes command". Mr Manovich, who is one of the rare thinkers who knows enough about actual computer assisted media production to talk about it intelligently, explains how the nature of software creation defines the tools of production and thus, to a large extent, the type of production of our day and age.
What does that mean? Well to put it simply, everything we create on computers is, to a degree or another, a manipulation of parameters. Like it or not, even if you are using a Photoshop brush or drawing a mask in AfterEffects, the vertices and the brush parameters are still defined as parameters.
Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Neither. But it is something to be aware of. You need to be aware of it for a practical reason (what the parameters are define what you can and can't do, they are your practical limits) and for philosophical reasons (they define the framework of your creative productions as a whole).
Let's start with the first point - practical limitations. If we know anything about creative endeavors, we know that they are most successful when they are approached with a set of limits. The cliche of the white page or of the super open brief are well known to anybody who does creative work. So in this sense, parameters are extremely helpful. They are the obstacles we need to surpass to not do what everyone else does with this or that tool. How many Vimeo "hits" are there out there that show how some people, more at ease than others in a certain application, do something you would never have thought possible with a given plugin or app? The learning curve becomes all about mastering the conjunction of parameters.
But on a deeper level, parameters are more pernicious than they seem. They are the result of the type of computing we have inherited from our forefathers, the ones who sat in offices in California and figured out how programming languages should work, how interfaces should be created, what computers should allow us to do or not.
This may seem like a bold statement, but I'm a firm believer that computing did not need to be what it is today. Read any book about the origin of our current operating systems, the paradigms of our software etc...and you will understand that things could have been quite different. And if you don't want to take my word for it, take this guy's :
In many ways, our computerized creativity is placed within a framework that was probably not so much a necessity and more of an ideological imposition.
What doesn't help to see that is that we have companies like Apple, who do everything they can to mask the rationale behind the decisions that define contemporary computing. Let these guys explain it better than I could.
So where does that leave us? I'm not sure. I would love to see somebody rinse his/her mind and create a brand new operating system based on a different way of thinking. But these kinds of clean breaks don't happen too often, so I'm not holding my breath. I will be looking out for it though, and if they need somebody to design the UI, I'll be on board.