The Impossibility of the Interface Matthew Fuller
In Matthew Fuller's The Impossibility of the Interface the author centers his discussion on forms of interface that do not concern computing, and analysis instead situations of power made possible by or relying upon the interface. In order to do so a typology of three modes of interface established, being them:
- interface as distributed throughout and indivisible from the system of which it is part
- interface as monitoring and control of reductive, indexical map of separate elements
- interface as independent associational structure
distributed throughout and indivisible from the system of which it is part
To discuss this mode Fuller uses as example the video installation by Harun Farocky I Thought I was Seeing Convicts. The installation is made of surveillance images from within the Corcoran Californian prison. At a given point the installation shows prison guards initiating a fight by introducing an inmate into the yard where members of rival gang are. Guards do this remotely, and observe it through the surveillance cameras. When a fight brakes, guards use fire arms to shoot the fighting inmates and conclude what they initiated.
The interface which is in place and allow guards to code the behavior of inmates is hard to identify; it is constituted by various nodes: the ideology, the architectural structure, technology, etc. Fuller argues than rather than asking where is the interface one should rather ask what does the interface does that it did not do before.
Corcoran prison's example testimonies the transition from a disciplinary society to a society of control, where the behavior of the inmates is constantly modulated, their behavior is no longer subject to a strict control, they have certain freedoms - as given the choice to go into a possible violent situation - which plays against them, allowing more violence to be exercised inflicted on them.
One can establish a parallel between Corcoran prison's interface and Bentham's panopticon. There is however a striking difference: the panoptical system did not promote violence, simply incarceration and a feeling of being monitored. Corcoran prison interface becomes more perverse since it uses free will to increase the level of violence and control inflicted on the prisoners.
The mediation of reality though the interface distances those behind it from the real action. A deadly shot seen through a surveillance camera is less real than any shot in a Hollywood movie or a computer game.
interface as monitoring and control of reductive, indexical map of separate elements
Fuller employs example of bakery in Boston, which began to use a baking system with an interface that allow workers to control the production process without being in touch with the materials and processes of bread making. In such situation the workers operating the interfacing do not need to understand the baking process, their only task is to be the interface. At the end of this section Fuller argues that the more the indexical map and what it controls look alike, the more powerful this interface becomes.
Interface as independent associational structure
Computer games are the example use in this last mode. According to Fuller the engagement with a game is brought by the richness of variants. However, in order to create a high-level of engagement variants do not have to be authentic, but internally consistent.