I remember the first time I heard the concept of a "Web page" and how perplexing that was to me at the time. It was as if the web were a book, and this here was a page inside it. I never thought of the web in these terms, even in the early days, because to me it was far more abstract and novel than that. Much more exciting than a "page" could ever be. It was a crazy graph exploding with possibilities in all directions.
It's no surprise that I went on to study computational linguistics and information retrieval. The web to me was a treasure trove of patterns with information ready to be used in interesting ways. The web is a huge amalgamation of links all intertwined together, nodes on a graph, and makes me lean more towards physics than books.
Why do we still talk about the concept of a "page" when we design?
This in itself is an odd mental model. We talk about the different "screens" involved in a user flow through a software system, but this again fails to capture the depth of the work we are doing as designers. You are not designing "screens" or "pages" that are destinations to information, or a logical step in a process. This is short-changing the user and yourself as a designer. You are doing something far more visceral than that. You are orchestrating the moves, following the trail of thought and the quirks of the mind to enable real world things to happen: an item to be delivered at my door that I'm excited about, a message from my mum that makes me feel good, or a photo shared amongst my friends that strengthens our bond...It's about crafting experiences that inevitably result in a human emotion, and that have real-world implications.
This idea of going back and forth is tiresome. It's as if I have started this book so my only options are to read ahead or flip the pages back. Why am I given a mental model that is so linear? The mental model of a "page" was important in the early days of the web, because people needed to grasp what it was about so they could use it, and have the right expectations for it. Surely by now, 15 years later, we have some grasp of what the web is? It is no longer just made up of static text. I think people have developed other mental models for it by now that weren't possible in the beginning.
The web is not a destination anymore (or a collection of destinations). I can go in any direction, I can do anything I like. Here, gravity does not exist and all the natural laws no longer apply. Design with this in mind. Focus on the real-world effect, the emotional consequences, the enriching of lives.