New ways of hiding: towards metainterface realism

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Interfaces have a history of realism as attempts to map, represent and interact with reality. However, recent changes in the interface, including both the way we understand, use, design and build interfaces, merits a new discussion of its realism. The contemporary interface is both omnipresent and invisible, at once integrated into everyday objects and characterised by hidden exchanges of information between objects. With the current spread of mobile devices, embedded sensors, cloud services, and data capture, a new interface paradigm, the metainterface, arises where data and software disappear from our devices and into the global cloud. The metainterface indicates that the interface has become more abstract, generalised, but also spatialised in the sense of being ubiquitous, mobile, urban and related to the things of our environment. The metainterface as a concept, industry and art/design practice calls for a new kind of realism which combines what you see (e.g. the data, tools, operations, transactions) with how you see it (the metainterface and its software, networks and executions), including how it sees you (how the user/users are captured, datafied, profiled, computed and 'executed'). In other ways we need a 'way of seeing' that goes beyond the visual and integrates the metainterface and its effects. Currently these effects can be seen as two ways of hiding: 1) Minimalist hiding, e.g. the hiding of the datafication, monitoring and profiling going on in cloud computing infrastructures behind its immediate, minimalist user-interface. 2) Environmental hiding, including hiding its mode of control as smart for example. These dimensions are often combined but can be investigated in workshops for metainterface realism. This article will discuss these options by looking at art that explores and produces alternatives to this seeming disappearance by the artists Ben Grosser, Joana Moll, James Bridle, EL Putnam and workshops by Joana Moll and the authors et al.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)72-82
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019


  • Realism
  • metainterface
  • Interface Criticism
  • critical theory
  • Design Anthropology, ethnography, participatory design, critical theory
  • interface criticism
  • realism
  • the design of transparency


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