selection of work
Work in progress
ABSTRACT Currently, much of our being in the world is mediated by computer interfaces. Cast into a society where information technology regulates the majority of our production processes, we resort to touchscreens, keyboards, scanners, etc. for the most basic of actions. Estranged from authentic social life and with online representations lurking on the cellphone in our pocket, we reach out to these same interfaces to get to know both others and ourselves. With this mediation, we experience a world --- one which we take in certain cases for 'the world' --- in an interface. Perhaps the earliest philosophical contemplation on interfaces comes from Heidegger, classifying the typewriter as `an intermediate thing', not quite a machine, but 'its production [...] conditioned by machine technology' (Heidegger 1992). Indeed, the interface design confers a certain reality and reason; the interface presses its own logic on our experiences and initiates the construction of a particular subject, conditioned into particular modes of production and into a particular understanding of the world around her.
In this essay we will pay particular attention to the material presence of the interface. The interface embraces a surface tension between the artifical and the biological, between the logic of the machine expressed in flows of electrons and the logic of the user embodied in human flesh. Over time our interface-actions shifted; e.g. writing became typing, typing became swiping. We examine how different ideologies materialize in interfaces and produce subjects by employing inter alia different levels and styles of anthropomorphism, interpellation, knowledge requirements, and user action. The interface establishes a mode of being in which it is suggested to be a surface, while it is, in fact, a thing. We are currently at a stage where the design of the interface is predominantly shaped to give the illusion of a window; flat, thin and shiny. The interface is not set-up to give the user knowledge of and power over what the machine is and does. Instead, it focuses on giving the illusion of being an `invisible mediator', by reducing its physical and machine-like presence into a visual opening where we can touch and swipe our way to the other. This immediate appeal as something ready-at-hand conceals the mechanics of the machine, renders us blind as to its inner working and potentiality, and thus strips us of our autonomy towards it. The utopia of an easily usable machine is put to use to veil under a thin flat surface the actual dystopia where the user's feelings and attention are hijacked, commodified, and nudged for the benefit of corporations. With the current interfaces that establish a permanent interactive connection to the Web, we are not only the spectator, but we become spectator and spectacle in one. Especially with the increased use of sensor readings, the interface is assimilating us. The interface does not only interface our access to the digital realm beyond, instead it is interfacing us to the digital realm.
This paper is in progress and turned out to be quite a box of Pandora. It is written with Ludo Gorzeman, and so far we have presented this paper at the Theoretical traditions, new technologies conference in Paris in June 2018 and at the hackersconference TBD in Amsterdam in July 2018. We expect to finish the paper in March 2019.