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<nettime> Interactivity: Hopkins, Stalder

Date: Sun, 5 Apr 1998 16:32:42 +0200
From: John Hopkins <>
Subject: Re: <nettime> Interactivity: a praise of clocks

>your argument about clocks is compelling, but only goes so far, i
>think.  if the only definition of _interactive_ is that we do something
>to it to make it work, then a pair of scissors is interactive.  a
>shoelace is interactive.  a toilet is interactive.
>in order to be a useful term at all, we need a much more refined
>definition of the word.  here's my proposal: the measure of

I might propose a more extended definition, or principle, that states that
generally the material and intellectual world is interactive.  We use our
physical powers to remap given material systems and our psychic energies to
remap intellectual systems -- a mineral, then, with a rich concentration of
silver sulphide, is interactive when we reconstitute its given system of
molecular concentration into a new system; a given language is remapped
from a discrete shared system of interactive communication learned
individually and collectively into poetics.   Other levels of interactivity
relate to different mappings of input (given) system and output ("created"
system, although this term is misleading as the new systems are
reconstitutions NOT creations in the sense of springing from the VOID).

Is it possible to construct a simple system of understanding of
interactivity that would include principles of how we interact with the
entire material world around us?  And can these principles be *mapped
upwards* to include the more abstract systems of language (which includes
most computing systems, right?)?

As this question implies there seems to be some fundamental difference
between material interactivity and interactivity within *logical* or
*linguistic* types of abstract systems...  A computer, of course, involves
both physical and logical systems, but the physically interactive segment
is minor (I think most of us would agree that the technological development
of physical interface design has lagged behind the development of the
language and abstract systems that drive the machine...)...

A second question might be what are the limits of interactivity of a
language-based system?  Spoken languages represent a complex, multifaceted,
and illogical system of communications mediation in opposition to the
rather rigid *linguistics* of a typical computer language...  Conditional
arguments which are fed environmental(ly variable) information appear to be
the most highly interactive elements of a computing system, but these rely
totally on the analogue randomness of the surroundings (including the human
element...), or NOT the computing system itself except as logically mapped
within the computer...

>the difference between these and, say, digital technology is that in
>creating languages, operating systems, websites links, etc. one is
>continually altering the system itself, not just what the system says.

Interactivity might lie not in what is the outcome of our play with a
system (whether material or otherwise), but more with how (the means by
which) we proceed in the apparently creative act.


John Hopkins, Tech-no-mad artist and educator back on the road in Kiel, 
Germany at the Muthesius Hochschule FORUM

the travelog at
email: <>
web address:

(messages only through 9 April 98)
Hubertus von Amelunxen
Muthesius Hochschule FORUM -- Kiel, Germany
Tel: 49 (0) 431  519.84.03      Fx: 49 (0) 431  519.84.08

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Date: 	Sun, 5 Apr 1998 13:25:38 -0400
From: Felix Stalder <>
Subject: Re: <nettime> Interactivity: a praise of clocks

Alan Myouka Sondheim wrote:

>The type of interaction you are discussion is more a WYSIWYG or GIGO,
>garbage-in/garbage-out phenmenon. We are used to machines, but we are not
>used to thinking of the worlding that occurs within and without them -
>with their re/constitution of the subject (Kittler, Ronell, etc.).

Think of an elevator. The most banal and reduced model of interactivity.
Nevertheless the re/constitution of the subject and its surrounding object
world is there.  The elevator constituted the elevator boy, it introduced
the fear of being trapped or falling down and creates every day the
embarrassment of not knowing what to look at because you want to avoid eye
contact with your fellow travelers.  Without elevator, no high rise,
without high rise no Manhattan skyline etc.

You can go even further. There is no need for interactivity to reconstitute
the subject. As it has been argued (by British historians like Eric
Hobsbawn and E.P. Thompson), the clock was the single most important
machine of the industrial revolution, because it was necessary to
constitute the working class, wages by the hour, punctuality in the work
place, in general the transition to an abstract time (as opposed to the
concrete, seasonal time of the pesant).

New technologies, because they are new, make the reconstitution visible.
However, the fact that they do so is nothing special. There is some truth
in 'the medium is the message', not just for television but for all media.

A. Cinque Hicks wrote:

>in order to be a useful term at all, we need a much more refined
>definition of the word.  here's my proposal: the measure of
>interactivity is not merely the ability to influence the performance of
>something, but to actually *alter the system of operation itself*.  when
>you step into an elevator, it has a single function that you cannot
>control.  you can give it very limited instructions on how to perform
>its function, but you cannot tell it what function to perform.  the
>dialog here is extremely limited.  the same is true of a radio or a car.

>the difference between these and, say, digital technology is that in
>creating languages, operating systems, websites links, etc. one is
>continually altering the system itself, not just what the system says.

As a user, how do you alter the system of operation of a cd-rom, or a web

There  is a fundamental difference between interacting with technology
(car, cd-rom, computer-game, TV) and interacting through technology
(telephone, e-mail).  In the first type of interaction, you choose from a
more or less refined set of options, which are predetermined. In the more
refined versions, there are predetermined ways to change the options you
have. The latter technologies 'simply' extend normal human interaction
across time and space. Here the interactive aspect is among human beings,
rather than between humans and technology.

>finally, i don't think that we have to think of interactivity as a _yes
>or no_ proposition.  There can be gradations of interactivity with some
>things being more or less interactive than other things, or some
>artifacts being interactive in some contexts but not in others (a
>telephone for example).

There are definitely more or less interactive devices. In some cases, say
the elevator, the interaction is extremely limited -- up or down -- in
other cases it is more sophisticated. The point, however, is that ALL
machinery has SOME degree of interactivity, with the single exception of



Les faits sont faits. 

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