The Man-Machine Interface. That is what Michael Hart of Project Gutenberg called the course of college study he fashioned for himself in the early 1970s. I came along in 1975 and grew up to muck around with Professor DOS, a Mac IIe and dreams of devices embedded into skull and relatively flat body surfaces like palm, stomach, thigh. Who needs an input device when you have yourself? What then is the meaning of interaction?
Along with my Hindu mother’s teachings on pantheism, these questions followed me into the cyberpunk-heavy 1990s when I read and re-read Neal Stephenson and William Gibson with reruns of Babylon 5 playing in the background, designed jewelry from computer components (and pretended that said creations interfaced with my brain activity and muscle motions) and danced to way too much techno at Chester Street and The Cardinal. Oh yeah, Hart and I had a term of endearment for my costume which I will not mention here other than to say it rhymes with the words “piper” and “rut.”
The earth and its outcrops offered similar seductive problems: Where do we end to let the earth begin? To answer this, I eventually went back to the interface and sat inside the data in cool, dark visualization rooms. Earth, meet computer, meet human. Virtual machine. Real machine. Sometimes I don’t see the difference.
Now, I am practically one with a desktop, laptop or smartphone and cannot imagine working without these tools to the extent that my shoulders and hands have morphed to accept them. Not good in the long run, I hear, but such is the payment for becoming what you pretend to be. Truly interactive.
We are The Borg.
Where does data end and meat begin? How much of the virtual is becoming real as we grow up with it and it becomes part of our everyday? What are we defining as interface and interaction these days? What happens to us when we eventually become non-corporeal (hey, if we’re not headed in that direction as a species, I want my money back)?
It appears we’re all thinking this at the same time. No. We have been thinking this all along. Same chewtoy, different day.
Charlie Stross: The Internet Is Made Out Of Meat (and here I thought the internet was invented so we could “fax” pizzas to one another – extra pepperoni on mine, please)
Boing Boing: They’re Made Out Of Data (warning: Tron 2 references and possible spoilers; also, use of the word “cloud”)
And the grand poobah of meat Terry Bisson: They’re Made Out Of Meat
* meatdata. Get it, get it? Never mind.