Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Interface Layer

This is where my reading may slow to stoppage. Off the rails. It is possible that Bratton has never worked the guts of computation, never wielded a wrench, and only knows the toolset of words. I will lose trust, perhaps entirely.

A map is already an interface, whose computation, however slowly rendered, exists all around it, before and after, and this interface both controls the real world it represents, and causes the user to be controlled by it. There is no need for computation "in" the interface. What Bratton seems to miss is the digital divide.

It can only be seeming because I have ground to a halt after barely entering the chapter; only just getting beneath its skin or it under mine. It will entail some actual effort to spiral back and around a few times. And I may no longer trust my guide.

I am hung up on interface as layer. Skin is, after all, the primary unmediated interface, and it is also the most intuitively an embodiment of "layer." But this comes after delineation of a subtly different meaning for the term, borrowed from computer networking, where unintuitive earth, cloud, city, and address and eventually or perhaps ultimately user are meant to be understood as layers, each articulated with the other by way of some sort of interface, itself a layer now. I feel that metaphor has displaced reality in a kind of rhetorical flimflam. Yellow Submarine tuba-player inhaled into his horn. My teeth hurt. Naturally.

Skin divides in from out, the internal reality of blood and guts from the external reality of the environment. Both define nature. The world of machines puts cowling where the skin might be, to hide the tangle of wires and levers and gears. Sound may be deadened, power insulated, and the goal is to mystify the actions underneath, but also to naturalize them so that the driver feels direct connection to some underlying world which he may learn to master. Drive by wire is not OK yet, for the most of us. Still, the automobile will not release us as we iterate it unto absurdity.

This is the identical architecture for digital computational machines, or at least that's how I read this section so far. There is an interface, and there is an imagined world, and there is some tooling to make the connection between these as direct as possible. Inside are still gears and wires and levers, but they are miniaturized and silenced to some extreme (apart from cooling apparatus, whose silencing has recently provoked explosion). But what is different is that we now imagine "nature" in our future also to be composed only of machinery. Computational machinery, operating only at the level of a very difficult-to-release Platonic "layer."

The literature cut out from the discourse of this book includes Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery. In that case, man and his machines were not quite removed from the somatic reality of the cosmos, and it was letting go of intentional precision which allowed a reconnect (in the form of a bullseye) with the world without.

The rifle and the reciprocating engine, which have so much genetic identity between them, are the last real interfaces, and it is no wonder that those on the wrong side of the cosmopolitan digital divide hold on to these so tightly. Action at a distance that remains, in most ways, tangibly immediate. The handle of a wrench is much closer to the stock of a firearm than to the joystick for some remote drone.

It does not require very much fancy impenetrable language to get this distinction. Guerillas planting explosives under bridges still hiding wires to pump-action spark generators. Wiley Coyote. Those of us fleeing metropolis - cosmopolis - post-meltdown, will be blocked by analog devices. Lever and result tangibly connected. Networks which materialize fighters the way that moonshine makes its rounds in mountains, and visitors are detected in the same way that an arrow meets its target. These actions are not computable in any cosmos.

Still, I look forward to understanding the user layer in The Stack. I look forward to knowing if Bratton knows that the user has already lost humanity, in battle with the machine. His gestures are inwardly aped, and his intentions amplified to the point of deniability when some social other is shamed to death. No-one has pulled the trigger, which is how the machine designed us. We have lost our language. We grunt agree or disagree, thumbs up or thumbs down. Shame on those coddled Middlebury students. They know not what they do, though they aim to do good and right by the world.

We miss our mark. But I digress.

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