Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Space Between

For my latest project, I've been thinking a lot about the concept of the interface -- that elusive space which defines the "human" from the "object" which it is manipulating.  The simplest and most successful type of interface, in Heideggerian terms, is one which disappears as the object is manipulated.  Some interfaces are so intuitive or effective, that we don't even conceptually think of them as interfaces.  Think about the handle of a hammer.  Normally, we see the handle as part of the hammer, and not as a handle in and of itself.  Why?  Because it intrinsically works ... until you have a blister, or have the first pangs of arthritis, or are forced to use your non-dominant hand.  Then you become very aware of the hammer not being a hammer, but instead being an impediment to what you want to do.  Oddly, though, more often than not, the "impediment" is localized in person/limb wielding the hammer and not the hammer itself.  If you have a blister on your hand, and you need to do some work, do you tend to think "this blister is killing me" or "I can't do this because of this blister", or do you think "I could do this if the hammer handle were softer and padded"? Chances are, you go for one of the former ideas first, and the latter comes only after figuring out how to supplement the handle to make up for your pain/deficiency.

There are several roads I can take with this idea, and in the past I've found myself torn between looking at interface on the smallest, most basic of level (where a specific aspect of the body meets an object), and looking at it from a broader, conceptual level (where we think of ourselves in relation to the object, on an epistemologoical and ontological level).  I've usually opted for the conceptual only because that was more comfortable.  But, as I've started delving into some new texts, I'm realizing that focusing on the conceptual pulls away from the physical, and potentially privileges thought and thinking in Cartesian ways.

So I'm purposely paying attention to the ways in which I interact with objects on a daily basis, and specifically thinking about how the physical interaction with the object changes the "shape of thinking."  I was inspired by Andy Clark's Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension, and am now reading Jane Bennett's Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things.  I want to be careful, though, because I don't want the piece on which I'm currently working to become a critical analysis of either.  I want to take the idea of posthuman topologies in a new direction.