Manifesto for a Post-Digital Interface Criticism (The New Everyday)

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We are living in an interface culture: wherever we are, we find touch screens, microphones, sensors, cameras; and we are constantly reminded of interfaces through their sounds. Whether mobile, networked or embedded in architecture or artefacts, the number of interfaces constantly increases to meet the desires of technologies, users and markets.

Usually, an interface is understood as a technological artefact optimized for seamless interaction and functionality. However, the interface also draws upon cultural and artistic traditions, and plays an important role in our culture as art, entertainment, communication, work and businesses. It is a cultural form with which we understand, act, sense and create our world. In other words, it does not only mediate between man and computer, but also between culture and technological materiality (data, algorithms, and networks). With this, the mediation affects the way cultural activities are perceived and performed.

But, have we now reached the end of cultural computing? In Apple’s 1984 advertisement video for the first Macintosh computer, an interface for conformity, absorbing the worker in a totalitarian state, was replaced by an interface for individual expression and do-it-yourself culture. Three decades later, the table is turning. According to a leaked NSA presentation it is now Apple who is Big Brother, and enthusiastic iPhone customers who are the zombies living in a surveillance state (Rosenbach et al 2013). The imagined free world of cultural computing has turned into a business of “controlled consumption” (Striphas 2010; Andersen and Pold 2014). To prevent piracy, software and hardware providers such as Apple, Amazon and Google have introduced a new cultural business model that involves a licensing system for cultural software and content. In short, cultural production becomes consumption – a matter of uploading content into the cloud, and selecting pre-configured filters. Although configurations are intrinsic to an interface culture, this has been taken to another level, and has turned into a ‘war on general purpose computing,’ as described by Cory Doctorow: the locking down of software into hardware turns the computer into an IT “appliance” (2011). Simultaneously, cultural consumption becomes production of data of what is read, looked at, listened to, etc., valuable in marketing as well as national defence. In this way, interface culture has been subsumed under a strictly monopolizing business model. The computer, which was originally developed as a military technology but redefined as emancipatory and revolutionary by Apple and others, is now back again where it began: as a military intelligence technology.

The above indicates that our interface culture has become ‘post-digital’: the digital expression holds less fascination, and digital culture is no longer the domain of DIY culture per se (see e.g., Cascone 2010, Cramer 2014, Cox 2014). Following this, and building on prior work on interface criticism (e.g., Andersen & Pold 2011), we propose six characteristics of the interface that we believe are important to address to critically reflect contemporary interface culture.

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Ana Castello