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The Interface Effect

Alexander R. Galloway

ISBN: 978-0-745-66252-7 October 2012 Polity 200 Pages


Interfaces are back, or perhaps they never left. The familiar Socratic conceit from the Phaedrus, of communication as the process of writing directly on the soul of the other, has returned to center stage in today's discussions of culture and media. Indeed Western thought has long construed media as a grand choice between two kinds of interfaces. Following the optimistic path, media seamlessly interface self and other in a transparent and immediate connection. But, following the pessimistic path, media are the obstacles to direct communion, disintegrating self and other into misunderstanding and contradiction. In other words, media interfaces are either clear or complicated, either beautiful or deceptive, either already known or endlessly interpretable.

Recognizing the limits of either path, Galloway charts an alternative course by considering the interface as an autonomous zone of aesthetic activity, guided by its own logic and its own ends: the interface effect. Rather than praising user-friendly interfaces that work well, or castigating those that work poorly, this book considers the unworkable nature of all interfaces, from windows and doors to screens and keyboards. Considered allegorically, such thresholds do not so much tell the story of their own operations but beckon outward into the realm of social and political life, and in so doing ask a question to which the political interpretation of interfaces is the only coherent answer.

Grounded in philosophy and cultural theory and driven by close readings of video games, software, television, painting, and other images, Galloway seeks to explain the logic of digital culture through an analysis of its most emblematic and ubiquitous manifestation –  the interface.

Introduction: The Computer as a Mode of Mediation
I. The Unworkable Interface
II. Software and Ideology
III. Are Some Things Unrepresentable?
IV. Disingenuous Informatics
Postscript: We Are the Gold Farmers

"Of vital importance to digital research; it should be included in any studies of the digital or mediated domain."
Media International Australia

"The Interface Effect fuses sophisticated contemporary theory with a detailed knowledge of the technics and techniques of digital media. Galloway is an important voice, and the book is sure to have a wide uptake among those interested in new media theory and contemporary aesthetics."
Jodi Dean, author of Blog Theory: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Drive

"Employing a sustained, powerful methodology, The Interface Effect sparkles with original insights. Galloway is interested not only in the effects that interfaces have, but also in them as themselves the results of cultural, technological, economic, and political forces. This double movement provides a way to connect the historical with the political, and the technological with both. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in new media studies, contemporary theory, and digital technologies."
N. Katherine Hayles, Professor of Literature, Duke University, and author of How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis

  • A new book by one of the leading figures in the field of media theory and contemporary philosophy
  • A highly original analysis of the media interface understood as an autonomous zone of aesthetic activity guided by its own logic - what he calls ‘the interface effect’
  • Through close readings of video games, software, television, painting and other images, the author seeks to explain the logic of digital culture through the analysis of the interface effect
  • The analysis is grounded in a thorough knowledge of relevant work in media theory, cultural theory and philosophy