RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2018

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150 Interface Geographies
Affiliation Digital Geographies Working Group
Convenor(s) James Ash (Newcastle University, UK)
Chair(s) James Ash (Newcastle University, UK)
Timetable Thursday 30 August 2018, Session 1 (09:00 - 10:40)
Room Glamorgan Building - Lecture Theatre -1.64
Session abstract Digital interfaces now form a key part of a range of activities in everyday life. From smart phones and watches, to tablets and PCs, environments are increasingly filled with, and controlled by, digital interfaces. Despite their abundance, the concept of interface itself has received relatively little attention from geographers (although see Ash 2015, Rose et al 2014, Rose 2015). Interfaces are often seen as a mask that is used to cover over hidden processes of data capture, extraction and algorithmic analysis, rather than a site worthy of study in and of themselves (Ash et al 2017). The session aims to redress this balance by drawing together a range of papers that focus on digital interfaces and how their design and use shapes practices in everyday life. Here, interfaces might be understood as physical buttons, sound effects, icons, voice activation and haptic vibrations as much as they are icons or images on a screen.

This session invites geographers to reflect on the interface as a key concept for understanding digital mediation and the spatiality of digital technology more generally. The session invites abstracts on topics including, but not limited to:

- Theoretical approaches to the spatiality of interfaces
- Interfaces, space and everyday life
- Mapping and digital interfaces
- Money, finance and digital interfaces
- Interfaces and embodiment
- Interfaces and health
- Feminist approaches to interfaces
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2018@rgs.org
Interface Geographies
James Ash (Newcastle University, UK)
Digital interfaces now form a key part of a range of activities in everyday life. From smart phones and watches, to tablets and PCs, environments are increasingly filled with, and controlled by, digital interfaces. Despite their abundance, the concept of interface itself has received relatively little attention from geographers (although see Ash 2015, Rose et al 2014, Rose 2015). In this paper I develop empirical work with digital interface designers and users from an ESRC funded project on high cost credit to outline three ways that geographers can contribute to understandings of the role digital interfaces play in a range of experiences and activities.
Scrolling and panning: Haptic encounters in Google Street View
Cheryl Gilge (University of Washington, USA)
Google’s mission to make the world’s information accessible and useful expanded to encompass the physical environment with Google Street View (GSV). The dynamic interface enables users to navigate the street-level representation through its haptic functionality. The expansive archive also engenders experimentation in diverse ways, including artistic production, pedagogical initiatives, and research objectives. Through use, the platform alters practices and the ways in which we come to know the world. In the process, it transforms multi-sensory embodied practices that engage space and place into a visual experience with a haptic component.

This paper examines the productive potential and inherent limitations of GSV. First, it examines creative and innovative uses that draw upon the haptic interface to approximate existing embodied practices like the photographic act. The interface functionality enables an active seeing and framing a view. Second, it explores the limitations of this new mode of visual experience by problematizing the habitual reading of the image. As research practices increasingly employ GSV for knowledge production, image quality, geographic scope, and cultural horizon influence reception and interpretation. By way of conclusion, this paper draws on Jacques Ranciere’s ‘politics of aesthetics’ to raise critical questions to engage the ethical implications of adoption.
Interface Memories
Duncan Hay (University College London, UK)
Valerio Signorelli (University College London, UK)
In The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty, Benjamin Bratton defines an interface as ‘diagram plus computation’: an ‘image [that] can be used to control what it represents.’ (Bratton 2015). That is, an interface, be it physical or digital offers a representation of a data structure in ways which enable users to act on and through them. Following Bratton, interfaces therefore aren’t ‘masks’ for more fundamental processes: as representations which act, they both produce and mediate those processes. As such, the affordances of an interface shape the way in which its underlying data structures can be acted upon; moreover, its design shapes the ways in which a user conceptualises that data. In this sense, interfaces are ideological, yet as with any representation, there is no unmediated access to the real that they depict.

This paper draws on preliminary learning from ‘Playing the Archive’, an EPSRC-funded research project exploring the affordances offered by Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technologies for capturing, preserving, and replaying the children’s games recorded by the folklorists Iona and John Opie. In it, we seek to delineate some of the ideological qualities of AR/VR interfaces, asking: can the sensorially-rich nature of these technologies constitute an ‘interface’ to memory? How do they articulate a particular relationship between past and present? And what forms of knowing about the past might their formal properties facilitate?
Interfaces as experiential membranes
Alex Gekker (University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
This paper proposes examining digital User interfaces (UIs) through the theoretical prism of experience. To do so, it builds on two complimentary strands. On the one hand I synthesise recent work on the spatio-temporality of UIs in shaping lived worlds (Galloway 2012; Ash 2015; Ash et al. 2017) and their ability to enact predictable responses in users, often via quantified and/or gamified elements (Grosser 2014; Schüll 2014; Rossiter 2015; Beer 2015). Here, I argue that contemporary UIs are unique in claiming to be both affective and effective, supplementing the traditional logic of calculation and rationality with newfound language of subjective experience (cf. Davies 2015). On the other hand, I juxtapose this observation with emerging trends in the HCI and design industries commonly critiqued as the experience economy (Terranova 2012), where ‘User Experience’ (UX) has become a separate and recognizable type of design, often existing separately from that of the primary UI’s functions. I build on digital-methods enabled exploration of the so called UX-sphere on-line as well as several interviews with UX practitioners. Through this, I show how ‘experience’ shifts from being seen as a user-centric to a designer-enabled UI-centric component. The language of the personal and the subjective is thus being worked within metrification and instrumentalisation of life.
At the Interface: work, resistance and technology in the gig-economy
Adam Badger (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
From the corporate office to the warehouse, the introduction of digital interfaces built
for, or harnessed by the workplace is nothing new (see Gregg, 2011). This paper will
focus on the amalgam of digital and work with particular reference to one ‘gigeconomy’ firm’s use of an interface. It follows months of covert research – undertaken by the author - for a bicycle delivery platform and an ethnographic study of the trade union representing and organising them. It highlights the sociomaterial ways in which ‘riders’ work with, and through the interface in the undertaking of paid labour – its tactile, audio, and visual surfaces which interact with a complex assemblage of other interfaces (the phone of the geographically displaced customer, the tablet of the restaurant receiving orders, the cacophony of other workers’ activity, and the algorithm engineered to make sense of it all). Specific focus will be given to the intelligent design developed and deployed by the company and the ways in which it is felt, experienced, and lived by riders in the rhythm of work. This will be used to
further argue that interfaces are the very manifestations and agents of processes
such as data capture, analysis and control, rather than the thin veneer shielding
these functions from view. Finally, attention will turn to the ways in which workers
and trade unions are generating understandings of the interfaces with which they
work to actively resist; in so doing, dissolving carefully engineered sites of efficiency
into points of rupture and resistance.