and HCI

The Interface Effect

By Alexander R. Galloway

This was quite a dense book and an intellectual challenge to read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It made me think more critically about interfaces and interactions between viewers and the media viewed.

Gallaway essentially strings together a collection of essays commenting on the works of authors such as Lev Manovich, Wendy Chun, and Jacques Ranciere, covering topics including new media, software and ideology, and the “gold mining” phenomenon that consumed the cultures of World of Warcraft and other online multiplayer games. The result is not a narrative that defines the interface nor provides an exhaustive taxonomy of the concept, but analysis of the cultural effects and political implications of interfaces in an increasingly informatic society. According to Galloway, the interface is “not a thing” and “always an effect”.

Early on, Galloway states that he sees previous theorists privilege the screen over other forms of interfaces. His approach, which resembles that of François Dagognet, states that the interface is not limited to the screen and not even limited to physical objects, but a “fertile nexus between two worlds.” His characterization of interfaces allows the book to explore different approaches to new media: “[D]igital media ask a question,” he writes, “to which political interpretation is the only coherent answer.” Political dialogue seems unavoidable, even fundamental, to the discussions of uses of new media.

I found especially interesting the way Galloway talked about the computer as a dynamic interface process rather than a static interface object: the computer’s no longer a machine that absorbs and stores other media such as print, audio, films, and games, but its operation is a process of translation among different states. His commentary on open and closed forces (whether and how it acknowledges the presence of the viewer) of an image or piece of art also resonated with me. It’s now a part of my conscious thought when I view such media.

Despite the diversity of concepts covered, I wished that Galloway placed a little more emphasis on people’s interactions with interfaces. His analysis focuses on how society and culture are incorporated into media as objects of interfaces, but doesn’t talk about the human interactions that evolve and bring such interfaces to our attention. Overall, I was hoping for Galloway to add analysis on human interaction and any applications in UI/UX, but it was just never really talked about in detail.

In all honesty, I didn’t quite follow when Galloway started talking about “the whatever” towards the end and how it seemed unmotivated, but this is definitely a book that I will come back to for a second read and hopefully can squeeze more out of it when I do so.