Centre for Internet & Society

Sherry Turkle, in her book Alone Together, talked about how the digital technologies, replacing interface time with face-time, are slowly alienating us from our social networks. There has been an increasing amount of anxiety around how people in immersive and ubiquitous computing and web environments are living lives which are connected online but not connected with their social and political contexts.


While there are instances and examples of mobilisation, social networking meets, group formations, etc. there is a growing worry that on an everyday basis, we live our lives more in the company of gadgets, ambience technologies and digital platforms than with people.

At the same time, users of technologies often express their engagement with technologies in affective terms, where they seem to form intimate relationships with their technologies. The interfaces that we see all around us, constantly deflect our attention, emotions and desires on to different surfaces, creating flattened universes with the promises of deep immersion. Especially as the internet becomes mobile and digital interfaces become ubiquitous – from large scale billboards to small wearable devices; from sites of work to spaces of pleasure – there is a new form of intimacy which is shaped, designed, experienced, and lived through interfaces.

The digital interfaces become polymorphous sites of affection, love, desire, aspiration, seduction, transgression and stability. The interface is growing so integral to our everyday lives, that we start thinking of them as metaphors through which we understand ourselves and the world that we connect to. We talk about ourselves as systems that need to be ‘upgraded’ or ‘connected’. We think of the world as a network through which we ‘recycle’ our lives and ‘connect’ to our ‘peers’. The interfaces, are simultaneously opaque and transparent – They allow us to connect to the digital other, crossing boundaries of geography and time, and they also deny us access to the actually mechanics which bring the interfaces to life.

Interface Intimacies is a research cluster that is interested in digging deep into interfaces, to examine peoples’ relationships with the digital interfaces around them. What are the affective relationships that people have with their interfaces? What goes into anthropomorphising an interface? What are the larger politics of labour, performance and  ownership that surround interface design? What are the ways in which people simulate presence and connections through their interfaces? How is the human presumed in Computer-Human interface design? What aesthetic and political moves are we witnessing with the rise of interface mediated publics? What and who is made opaque when interfaces become transparent? When interfaces get distributed, what are the possibilities and potential for art, theory and practice to move into new forms of politics?

These are the kind of questions that this research cluster seeks to address with a special focus on Asia.  The intention is to build a knowledge network of researchers from different disciplines – Art, Architecture, Computer Human Interaction Design, Digital Humanities, New Media Theory, Urban Planning, Public Infrastructure Design, Software Studies, Interface Design etc.  – to enter into a dialogue around Interfaces and how they define contemporary conditions of life in their contexts.

The project hopes to organise a workshop exploring these ideas leading to an edited anthology and a special journal issue of peer-reviewed academic scholarship.  The project hopes to kick off in February 2012 and take about 18 months till completion.

Collaborators: Audrey Yue (Melbourne University), Namita Malhotra (ALF)

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