On Profanation of Interfaces and Technological Embodiment

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Jan 5th, 2012
On Profanation of Interfaces and Technological Embodiment


   

Interfaces are all-pervading and their ability to enhance our communication and lives creates an almost religious devotion to technology. The ability to grant an instant gratification and expand our mind puts technology on the same level as drugs: highly addictive, could be dangerous in high dosage, very helpful and sometimes mind-blowing when consumed moderately. My proposition, drawing upon the ideas of Agamben, Foucault, and Kurzwell, is to de-sacralise what we’ve learned so far from using the interfaces and to make it profane. Let’s embody the interfaces and bring the magic into the everyday life to allow the free reign of polysingularity.

 

Interface is a point where two systems meet and interact. While the body is still the primary interface for human beings, many artificial interfaces are increasingly present in our everyday interactions with the environment. We use them when we read, communicate, make tea, listen to music… These interfaces, in turn, affect our behavior and alter the way we interact.

Michel Foucault talks about dispositif as a network that can be established between discourses, institutions, laws, and scientific statements. Such network, according to Foucault, is necessarily strategic and has a purpose to govern, thus it is always inscribed into a play of power (Foucault 1980). Giorgio Agamben further expands on this notion of dispositif, or apparatus, by including “anything that has in some way the capacity to capture, orient, determine, intercept, model, control, or secure the gestures, behaviors, opinions. or discourses of living beings” (Agamben 2006). That is, not only schools and corporations, but also pens, cigarettes, computers, and cellphones – the interfaces we use on a daily basis. In the essay “What is an Apparatus?”, Agamben writes:

“The term “apparatus” designates that in which. and through which, one realizes a pure activity of governance devoid of any foundation in being. This is the reason why apparatuses must always imply a process of subjectiflcation. that is to say, they must produce their subject.”

Therefore, interfaces are the power devices that create their own subjects. For Agamben, they increasingly separate people, capturing the animalistic behaviors and shifting them into a separate sphere. Here it’s worth mentioning that Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, lists “eliminating desire” as one of his life interests on his personal page. The social network is a perfect example of an interface-apparatus that ingests the attention of people towards each other (under the pretext of sharing) in order to build its much-publicized social graph. It is then sold to the advertisers who can place their ads into strategic points of this network in order to further subjectify individuals to whatever molds their communication campaigns present. And if you think this is just a conspiracy theory, log on www.facebook.com/business/ to see how you can already target your “Facebook story” to any male between 18 and 20 years old living in Berlin, who is interested in music and fashion, and is not yet a “fan” of the Nike page that you happen to own. Just fill in the missing link with a nice post about Nike co-sponsoring a young designers show featuring some of the best new music names and the new “subject” is ready. This subject is “desubjectified” (to use Agamben’s term) of its own specificity and is turned into a mere node in the network, which can be used to further disseminate commercial communication.

However, these are all well-known facts and I only mentioned them for the sake of delineating the territory that we are not going to explore any further in this article. There’s no point in criticizing the victorious advance of technology and its all-pervading presence within our lives. It is useful, we need it, I personally use Facebook on a daily basis. In a way, technology is like drugs. It is highly addictive, it makes us feel better (while we use it and given that the dose is increased), and – most importantly – we can learn something from it. Therefore, what I want to focus on are the things that we can learn from the interfaces. There must be something very attractive in them that we are willingly (de)subjectifying ourselves on a daily basis. The ability to send each other a text message anytime anywhere (mind-reading), to see each other on Skype (teleportation), to express your affinity through the Facebook “Like” (telepathy) is simply amazing. It’s like we’ve finally got the opportunity to realize that life-long myth everything and everyone being connected on this planet. We live in multiple parallel worlds, we go beyond the language into the realm of sounds and images to communicate our ideas, we have thousands of eyes watching us, and we can find anything we want in just a split second. Never mind most of these infrastructres are owned and operated by corporations with their own commercial interests. The proponents of singularity (Kurzwell, 2005) are telling us that we will soon be one with technology, that we will erase the last frontiers between the actual and the virtual, and that we will live forever.  Who cares about their dealer’s intentions or ethics when the high is so good?

We are living a fantasy and it’s an amazing time to be alive.

The next step is to stop and to make it real again.

Whatever good that we’ve learned from the interfaces doesn’t have to stay isolated within  their realm. We’ve had a good trip, but now it’s time to stop indulging into the fractal psychedelic patterns and see how what we’ve learned so far can inform our everyday interactions. The kind of communication where we use our voices and our bodies.

Let’s give as much “likes” to the people we don’t know on the streets as we give out to people on Facebook. Let’s freely express our opinions, show each other the images that inspire us, and make each other hear the music we like without any trace of shyness. Let’s chat with each other without the slightest bit of self-consciousness. Let’s tell our friends that we love them every day and send each other beautiful gifts. Let’s read several books at the same time and browse aimlessly on the streets until we find something or someone that captures our attention. Let’s meet strangers and have sex with multiple different partners that we don’t even know so well. Let’s make ourselves a location-specific mental note next time we pass that weird place to finally come by. Let’s leave a mental reminder inside our mind’s calendar to run that errand next Thursday. Let’s make our thoughts as succint as a Tweet and our knowledge as elaborate as a Wolfram Alpha search results. Let’s ask our friends what songs they like apart from their favorite one and let’s give each other all the old DVDs we’ve got for free. Let’s chuck all the animated GIFs and make real-life loops our actions. Let’s go to see stuff at galleries and take each other to great parties. Let’s look outside and just Photoshop out within our mind’s eye whatever it is that makes us unhappy. Let’s re-edit our past, cutting and pasting the good bits together, so that we can look forward towards our future. Let’s talk about politics and then shift into fashion, then talk a little about relationship, make a horoscope prediction for the next week, go out for a walk, find a stranger, come by their house, eat all their food, leave, get lost, meet the next day and pretend like all that has never happened. Let’s think without a computer, without a screen, without a pen and paper – but still have the ability to re-edit, store and visualize our ideas, perceiving them in their totality.

Whatever we sacrificed to the technology and interfaces can be reclaimed back through making it profane again. According to Agamben “profanation is the counter-apparatus that restores to common use what sacrifice had separated and divided” (Agamben 2005). This temporary detour into the realm of an almost religious devotion to technology has to end. It’s time to learn back what we’ve experienced and embody whatever behaviors we found so exciting and addictive out there, within the virtual realm. Next time you use your iPhone, interact on Facebook, or search on Google – ask yourself, how would you do the same without the interface you’re using right now. They played a great role in showing us that it’s all possible. In some cases we even know how exactly it works. So let’s be profane and embody the functionalities of these interfaces in order to bring the magic into our everyday life.

The interface-apparatus machine is marked by the reciprocal process of subjectification-desubjectification, bringing the human beings to the point of singularity where everyone is connected and all the differences and specificities are effaced. It’s a grim picture of a homogenous world where the body is downgraded to the role of a life-sustainment mechanism that has to be crammed by with supplements in order to withstand the technological advance.

Instead, if we assume the behaviors we find so attractive within the tools we use and embody them, then we are combining the technological advances with the natural intelligence and healthy limitations of our own bodies.  We then celebrate polysingularity: the ability of every human to be anything at any moment and yet choosing to be something specific at every particular moment of time. The capacity to believe. To go beyond one’s limits, to be exhausted, to be happy, to belong to a community and to be independent at the same time. The infrastructure our bodies are running on belongs to everybody and has a very intimate relation to nature. We already know how to do all the things that make us excited about computers, it’s now time to learn how to bring them out of that wonderful electronic box and expand their potential even further.

 

References:

Agamben, G (2006). What is an Apparatus? Stanford University Press, Stanford, California

Foucault, M (1980). Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977. Pantheon Book, New York, pp. 96-98

Kurzwell, R (2005). The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. The Viking Press

 

 



   

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