Locating Media Lecture Series: Interface Cultures

Room: AH217/218
Time: see respective lecture

The lecture series explores the field of interface studies by drawing on a set of different perspectives and projects. It follows the premise that the interface is an ideological construct marked by power relations that one can address theoretically (What does the term ‘interface’ denote? How does one study interface cultures?), historically (Where do interfaces come from? In which contexts have they been deployed?) and/or aesthetically (What regimes of the sensible do interfaces install? How do they structure performances in the sense of action grammars?).

The overarching question of the lecture series is: How can one criticize an interface? What criteria are relevant for this pursuit at all and which methodical and theoretical approaches have been provided towards this goal? As a cultural form, contemporary interface arrangements should be investigated critically with regards to the subject positions they provide for, the actions they afford or discourage, the ways in which they structure people’s access to and perception of computers. Whereas many of these aspects are centered on user interfaces in a narrower sense, the term is also useful to address the operationality of data infrastructures (e.g. APIs, physical infrastructures of the Internet and their various interfaces), and the power relations attached to these.

»Interface Conversion and the Politics of Behavioral Design«
Michael Dieter | May 8 | 4-6 p.m.
This paper discusses a dramatic transformation in the meaning and use of the term ‘conversion’ – where the latter once referred to practices of religious sacrifice, or later in modernity, the historic break of revolutionary subjectivity – conversions today routinely take place through the design and quantification of interface events. When composed through information architecture, user interfaces are regularly built to funnel activity along a journey made up of monitored touch points or instances of bounded decision-making. When folded into the larger ‘on-boarding’ strategies of platforms, for instance, these activities resemble a techno-behavioural road to Damascus, with the important difference that as data circulates through data-intensive infrastructures, traces of identity are mediated in ways that complicate both self-reflexivity and modes of witnessing in the interpretation of signals. Indeed, these unique dynamics alter historical settings of both neoliberal thinking around markets and the mediation of power in conditions of transformative subjectivation. Drawing from Peter Sloterdijk’s concept of anthropotechnics and Michel Foucault’s late work on technologies of the self, this presentation conceptually and critically reflects on the ethico-political dilemmas that arise with such conversion paradigms of behavioural interface design, particularly as utilized by corporate platform services, and considers how this array of problems have increasingly fed widespread expressions of interface critique aimed at personalisation, capture and discourses of digital dependency.

»›Windows & Mirrors‹ – Theory and Practice in the Interface Design of Online Archives«
Lozana Rossenova | May 15 | 6-8 p.m.
This talk will focus on my collaborative doctoral research project with digital arts organisation Rhizome, which aims to develop a theoretical and practical approach towards the redesign of the interface of Rhizome’s historic archive of net art – the ArtBase. The artworks in the ArtBase archive challenge traditional paradigms within the field of human-computer interaction, which makes the design of the archive a particularly interesting use case for rethinking the concepts of transparent and reflective interfaces. Transparent interfaces appear to be like windows – aiming to direct the user’s gaze straight to the content. Reflective interfaces act like mirrors – directing the user’s attention back to their own context. Can we move beyond this dichotomy and what does that mean for the archive’s interface design? In this talk, I will also discuss the value of taking a multidisciplinary approach – looking to archival theory, digital preservation and media studies in order to develop a critical design practice. I will also address the challenges of conducting practice-based doctoral research, which is expected to produce both practical and theoretical outcomes, and I will discuss strategies towards bridging the notorious practice-theory divide in the field of human-computer interaction.
The metaphor of windows and mirrors was first introduced by Jay David Bolter and Diane Gromala in their eponymous book published by MIT Press in 2003.

»The Metainterface«
Christian Ulrik Andersen | June 5 | 6-8 p.m.
This talk will explore the notion of the interface from an analytical and critical perspective. To many people computer interfaces relate to the graphical user interface and carry connotations of user-friendliness and smooth access to functionality. The talk will focus on how the interface has a history of disappearance, but also how it always resurfaces – with an implicit language and grammar that is often reflected in artistic practices around the interface. The talk will ask how the interface functions as a linguistic construct (demanding new theoretical perspectives), and how to consider the role of artistic practices around this. Furthermore, it will examine contemporary developments in the interface, captured in the notion of “The Metainterface” – an interface that not only renders interaction smooth and smart, but also displaces the interface (in “the cloud”, e.g.). It will outline how a new culture industry arises around this displacement, and present artworks that seek to critically explore the realities that the metainterface produces.

»Ein virtueller Agent als Tagesbegleiter für Senioren und kognitiv eingeschränkte Menschen?«
Karola Pitsch | June 19 | 7-9 p.m.
Angesichts des demographischen Wandels und dem damit einhergehend prognostizierten vermehrten Unterstützungsbedarf für ältere Menschen wird in den letzten Jahren in besonderem Maße die Entwicklung und Erforschung assistiver Technologien vorangetrieben. Im häuslichen Kontext eingesetzt, soll sie – so eine der Visionen – die Autonomie unterstützungsbedürftiger Personen bewahren und stärken helfen. Im Rahmen des interdisziplinären BMBF-Verbundprojekts ‚KOMPASS‘ (https://scs.techfak.uni-bielefeld.de/kompass/) erforschen wir, wie ein virtueller Agent (‚Billie‘) Senioren und kognitiv eingeschränkte Menschen bei ihrer Tagesplanung und -strukturierung unterstützen kann.
Im Vortrag werde ich dieses Thema aus einer doppelten interaktional-kommunikativen Perspektive beleuchten: Zum einen stellt sich die Frage, wie eine möglichst intuitive Bedienbarkeit des technischen Systems mit den Mitteln natürlicher Sprache aussehen kann, was an Aspekten wie Verständigungssicherung (Cyra & Pitsch 2017) und Rezipienten-Display beleuchtet wird (Opfermann & Pitsch 2017, Opfermann et al. 2017). In dieser Fokussierung wird auf konzeptueller Ebene vorgeschlagen, dass die multimodale Interaktionslinguistik durch die Kooperation mit der Informatik Zugang zu einem neuartigen Forschungsinstrument erhält. Zum anderen ist zu erforschen, wie eine solche neue Technologie in den Alltag integriert wird und welche Auswirkungen dieses möglicherweise auf die Alltagsökologie der Teilnehmer hat (Cyra et al. 2016, Amrhein et al. 2016).

»Interface Critique«
Florian Hadler | July 17 | 6-8 p.m.
Interface Critique is neither interested in the enhancement of usability and mere ergonomic questions of design nor in the optimization of user orientation and user experience.
Interface Critique does not require a generally accepted definition of the interface. On the contrary: The obscurity and fuzziness of the term interface promises theoretical productivity and fruitful frictions among all kinds of disciplines.
Interface Critique strives to expose the implicit agencies, conditions and contingencies of services, applications and apparatuses.
Interface Critique encourages comprehensive and trans-disciplinary perspectives and promotes an understanding of the interface as a complex, reciprocal and dynamic phenomenon of major cultural significance.
Interface Critique is also an interdisciplinary, international platform, conceived in 2014, and just turned into an open access journal.
The talk highlights aspects of the underlying concept of the interface, explains the evolution, current state and future plans of the platform and last but not least focuses on some exemplary contributions and theories that have been developed in the Interface Critique framework.
For further information please visit interfacecritique.net.