Sunday, July 20, 2008

Touching the interface

Written in the St. Exupery airport, outside Lyon
Dawn, Wednesday July 16.

It’s hard to write when you’re bleeding. I think this is what I meant when I was trying to explain to Nicolas what I meant by “disembodied” interaction online. Our bodies are not implicated in very important ways when we’re online. Sure, you have avatars. Cutting edge webcam technology may even be able to track your movements, gestures, expressions (some might even say emotions these days—you should be able to see it all, right?) and reflect these forms of corporeal communication in real time with an avatar or approximation of the self on someone else’s screen.

But something is missing when the inevitability of your contact with the interface is not then an artifact of the communicative process. When that engagement with the medium itself is in a separate perceptual domain than that which is apprehensible to both or all parties to an interaction. Put another way, if you’re bleeding onto the keyboard when you type, who knows? How does that get digitized, encoded, sent through some server?

Maybe that’s what it means to have a body anyway. Sure there’s an interiority inherent in consciousness itself. An (at least minimal) awareness of one’s own body as a type of medium in the world, one that is private, limber, stiff, joyful or sad, in pain or in pleasure, etc. etc. etc. But perhaps the experience of physical pain more than any other can bring into relief the hereness of the engagement with the medium of communication. People are fastidious about cleaning fingerprints off their cell phone and ipod screens—how about other less seemly traces of the fact that we have, we use, we inhabit, or rather we are bodies even more than we are avatars in Second Life or profiles on MySpace.

You can probably tell a few things about people by looking at their keyboards. Mine, on this PowerBook G4 (the label stares at me right below the screen), has repeated wear on a lot of keys...and, thankfully, now, no drops of anything else.

Wait, time to board the plane soon. What is this taste in my mouth, in my nose? Perhaps, like they say in that commercial back in the U.S., “It’s the cheese...” I’ve had it since I was up in the Alps. Will I carry it with me all the way? Will it last even after getting off the plane? We'll see...

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