Kyborg 5: Attentional Communities Part C

Today’s goal: sketch a user interface model for attentional communities.

We are all used to screens that do things: you can order your next meal with one click and swiping right brings a different kind of treat.

However, very few of us know how that click or swipe is turned into sound and shove, the complicated mechanisms that turn user interactions into zeros and ones and then into electronic impulses.

There are two powerful and flawed ways of thinking about this dichotomy between the interface and the interior:

  1. The interior is the real deal, the way computers work. The interface is literally (and merely) the surface to a hidden interior.

  2. The interface is the real deal, the way computing becomes human. The interior is merely the temporary artifact through which that humanization happens.

A better, more complete, understanding is to embrace both perspectives, that without the right hardware technologies, there’s no such thing as a computer and that without the right interface to human capabilities, there’s no reason to value these technologies.

Is there a logic underlying the split between the interface and the interior?

A Technical Aside

I want to go back to an old Aristotlean idea of the causes that underlie every object:

The UI/UX/Hardware model of computing is - in my view - a subtle and important transformation of Aristotle’s idea: while hardware is best mapped to the material cause in the Aristotlean scheme, it also has intricate internal characteristics (the formal cause of the material cause, so to speak) and while the user interface is best mapped to the final cause, it also has quite a bit of formal structure (the software interface connecting the user to the hardware, for example), and so one can think of computing in the world as a nonlinear version of the Aristotlean theory, i.e., where the causes are intertwined, perhaps inseparable, rather than a neatly separable list of four causes per object.

Promissory note: that nonlinear architecture is what constitutes the Kyborg….

The Interface and Interior of Attention

We saw yesterday that every act of focus has an attentional community in the background.

Who constitutes that attentional community?

Very brief answer: We can differentiate between the interior and the interface of the attentional community. The interior is constituted by social institutions that create the objects of attention: clergy, academics, advertisers, media studios, product designers etc. The interface consists of all the mechanisms through which the message is spread - media outlets, proselytizers etc.

Until recently, this division between the interface and the interior was created organically - i.e., there was enough time for attentional communities to arise organically and reach some form of equilibrium between the interfacial and interior components. It’s only after the fact that we can decode the Kyborg at the core of an attentional community. In the past, the Kyborg was a hidden structure, not an engineered feature. Which brings me to the last update in this attentional community series, the conclusion I want to flesh out tomorrow:

With the new power of computational platforms (Google, Facebook, CCP etc..), attentional communities can be produced (almost) on demand.