“MEDIA DETERMINE OUR SITUATION,” the late German media theorist Friedrich Kittler observed at the beginning of his 1986 book Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. What Kittler meant by this pronouncement is that media such as radio, cinema, and television change our sense of space, time, and social relationships; they condition human experiences and perceptions. In the 1940s, in the midst of cryptographic warfare and the construction of the first digital, program-driven computers, it might have still been possible to take stock of the global media “situation,” Kittler suggested; by the mid-1980s, however, he found himself writing from within an oblique media environment.
From our own perspective at the beginning of 2013, the global situation (especially as it is experienced by many people living in the First World) may seem more mediated than ever. With the advent of the World Wide Web in the 1990s and the proliferation of mobile devices since the turn of the 21st century, we have experienced extraordinary transformations in the frequency, speed, scale, and quality of human communication. More and more, our daily lives are structured by emails, message boards, texts, instant messages, video conferences, social networking sites, and screen-based entertainments. According to 2012 estimates, Facebook has now reached more than one billion active members, the Internet is nearing 2.5 billion users, and worldwide cell phone subscriptions have exceeded the six billion mark. Once the tools of fringe communities and wealthy institutions, digital and mobile media now take a central, even infrastructural, role in shaping an increasingly informatic society.
For many Americans, then, a great deal of contemporary life is mediated by interfaces, including laptop, smartphone, and television screens. That this perpetual mediation so often goes unexamined speaks to the importance of Alexander R. Galloway’s new monograph The Interface Effect. Galloway’s ambitious book aspires to be not only a theory of interfaces but also a broader rethinking of the field of “new media studies,” an academic discipline with precursors in the media theories of Marshall McLuhan and Raymond Williams in the 1960s that emerged properly with scholarship produced alongside the rise of web culture of the 1990s. In recent years, new media scholars have focused on topics such as software (Lev Manovich, Matthew Fuller), hardware (Friedrich Kittler, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun), new forms of social interaction (Geert Lovink, Sherry Turkle), information networks (Tiziana Terranova, Eugene Thacker), digital technologies and human affects (Mark Hansen, Jodi Dean), development platforms (Ian Bogost, Nick Montfort), and the emergence of electronic literature and new digital art forms (Katherine Hayles, Henry Jenkins). Galloway has made important contributions to a number of these conversations with previous books about the politics of code and digital media (Protocol), computer networks (The Exploit, cowritten with Thacker), and videogames (Gaming). The Interface Effect returns to all of these areas while also analyzing other topics, such as the relationship between software and ideology, the aesthetics of information visualizations, and the “gold farming” phenomenon that has influenced the cultures of massively multiplayer online games.
As its title suggests, Galloway’s newest book ...read more