User Manual

Expanded Interfaces is a speculative exploration of the interface; the relational boundary between humans, computation and matter. It is a collection of thoughts and experiments in an online Zine, intended as an invitation into a movement to use technology on our own terms. We acknowledge the power of computational systems and want to empower “Users”, everywhere, to be more cognisant of how they interface with technology: thinking of interface as a practice, rather than a passive consumer act.

We aim to reorient discussion around interface from questions of functionality, ease of use and productivity towards social, material and emotional affect. We hope to provide alternatives to any vexing issues surrounding human interface interaction and exchange. Thinking about interface as practice, we reflect on the processes and the effects of the relationships between humans and technology. How do we live alongside technology in a way that our own emotional and material experience is in tune with the material agency of technology? Interface design has a leaning towards a homogeneous, objective aesthetic which discourages user critique; as interfaces become increasingly seamless and invisible the designers’ influence over our behaviours becomes harder to examine. Computing deeply impacts our lives, and transparency about what computers do could prevent our loss of freedom to these behaviour modifying systems. A relationship without boundaries is demanded from us when we take up with technology; it expects to be your friend, your educator your slave and your lover. We should be aware of the influence of biases over these intimate relationships, which arise from both creators and the material agency of computation. This influence has implicit and explicit effects over socio-cultural artefacts which we call interfaces.

Expanded Interfaces utilises the multimedia format of a website to collect different approaches to examine and broaden interface experiences. These approaches include rituals, speculative writing, visual essays, guides, case studies and reflections. We take direct inspiration from the Anarchists cookbook and Fluxus in being experimental and open-minded in our approaches. Through the process of writing and generating experiments, we began to parse out certain topics and strains of thought. Our resulting categories are by no means definitive, but rather serve to draw loose connections between the theories and problems that individual pieces address. These categories are: Framework, Transparency, Ritual, Trust, and Material Agency.

The Framework category addresses the sociocultural premises that we, both as users and creators, bring to interfacing with computation and technology. Within this category the use of speculative traditions was of particular use in posing alternatives that could exist outside of our current cultural biases. The Transparency category was directly inspired by Inke Arns’ essay “Transparent World” in “Interface criticism: Aesthetics beyond the buttons.” The design trend toward easily usable interfaces that are, to borrow from Heidegger, “present-at-hand” partially explains the drive towards the creation of invisible interfaces. We questioned whether we want invisible interfaces, especially as we move into an age of ubiquitous or embedded computing. The Ritual category examines behavior and routine. It is grounded in histories of meditation, embodied ritual and other religious practices. Re-framing interfacing with technology in the context of everyday rituals allowed us to examine how routine plays a part in the visibility of interface use; it allowed us to pose alternative modes of interaction and interruption of patterns of behavior. The Trust category delves into questions around emotion and relational connections. This category largely came out of the examination of intimacy and affect. This category is linked to “sociomaterial”; namely Lucy Suchman’s ideas around the ever-changing relational quality between subjects and objects. Questions around animism and non-human agency bridge the Trust category and the Material Agency category. The Material Agency category draws direct inspiration from theory surrounding Non-human Agency and New Materialism.

There are alternative options to how we engage with technology and as computational artists we have had the opportunity to think through what those alternatives might be. We hoped at the very least to document our process and thinking and to encourage all users everywhere to think through what their alternatives may be.