[earlier related post]

When speaking of interactivity, however, I want to avoid the mistake of using it as a globalizing term. There are, in my estimation, at least three aspects of interaction at work in the engagement of any particular work, to a greater or lesser degree, which I will begin sketching out here. My working terms (likely to be adjusted) are: material interaction, human-material interaction, and human peer interaction.

The first type – material interaction – functions akin to the description from Paul Dorish referenced earlier: the “interplay between different components.” I intend “material” (which may not be the best term in this case – thus, the “working term”) to signify those component parts that are programmatic, or material, or computational. An algorithm, or ink scratched into a page, or the manipulation of printing techniques to layout a novel like House of Leaves would all fall into this category (although clearly different unto themselves, requiring interpretative measures). It would account for the traditions of textual studies, as well as (in part) the form and content debate.

The second type – human-material interaction – works as described; it comprises the relationship of humans to the “machine as built” (whether that machine be a computer program or a book) as well as individual reactions to specific components of the whole material object. This is the realm of reader response theories to HCI departments, narratology to film studies, accounting for the analysis of textual objects (how we interpret texts; how we read) to media objects (how we play; how we game). This accounts for the influence of ‘multimedia’ – how the inclusion of various senses affect of relationship to the object – so, the study of haptics and ergonomics (touch and spatial relationships), as well as hermeneutics (interpretation of visual signs).

But already we also see that those two versions of interactivity – the material and the material-human – relies on the understanding that they are two components also interacting with one another. One can not engage a work of art outside of the material interaction that enables its constitution. A plain electronic text of Moby Dick is certainly different from a first edition, but both versions carry with them a certain cache both in their composition (ink on paper; electrons on a screen) and in the cultural value of the work itself (the electronic edition clearly is less valuable for a collector than a first edition, simply in the basis of the novel’s material construction – quite simply, it’s harder to copy a first edition and, if it were copied, it would be a “forgery”).

How would Nelson Goodman’s theory of symbols (Languages of Art) account for this typology? I’ve always felt that his distinction between allographic (systems of writing, for example, such as the alphabet) and autographic (a painting, which can not be duplicated without loss) was a distinction that failed for me (a spectacular, and very useful failure, however). Correct spelling, as I recall (I’m sure I must have missed a nuance), was the distinguishing feature of making sure a proper copy of an allographic textual work was made. The autographic work had no such criteria – the fact that it could not be copied without loss is what makes it an autographic work (clearly, Goodman published before Napster). (Admittedly, this is pulling out Goodman from about two years ago, so feel free to correct me if I’m mis-remembering or misinterpreting). The difficulty I see is separating the autographic and the allographic when I see both functioning in, say, a textual object.

to be continued …


6 Responses to Working Definition of Interactivity, cont.

  1. Anne says:

    This may be waaaaay off topic, so please feel free to ignore 😉

    Despite the fact that one of my hats is “interaction designer” I’ve always been uneasy about the term interaction (and don’t get me started on if we can even design for it!)

    I like Paul Dourish’s work on embodied interaction. Bringing Heidegger’s phenomenology into computer science is lovely (and damn smart). But it’s still missing something.

    There seems to be a sense that interaction involves humans and computers moulding each other (recalling that moulds are also enclosures). This is just as relevant if we are looking at the relationship between authors and texts, or artists, audiences and works of art.

    I think that we may instead look at modulating processes, always already in motion. (See Postscript on Societies of Control: http://www.nadir.org/nadir/archiv/netzkritik/societyofcontrol.html) The Situationist tactic of detournement (http://library.nothingness.org/articles/SI/en/display/315) may also be helpful here. And Latour’s ‘proliferation of hybrids’ and ‘collectives of humans and non-humans’ (covered in _Pandora’s Hope_) offer other means to understand (and mix up) categories like authenticity and even materiality …

    All of which is to say that “material interaction, human-material interaction, and human peer interaction” all rely on discrete categories (objects or subjects) in-and-of themselves. And I’m one of those wacky people who says: No such things!

    But like I said at the beginning – this may be completely irrelevant to you … 😉

  2. MGK says:

    I agree with Anne (and I think you do too) that the catagories tend to break down as soon as you build them up. But that’s not to say that building them up isn’t a useful, even indispensible exercise. Likewise with Goodman: Kari can say more about this, but the great reward of his allographic/autographic distinction is the way it imposes certain–ultimately arbitrary–constraints on our thinking, such that we come to appreciate, as a critical tool, a level of abstraction that makes “sameness of spelling” the sole criteria for identifying a text. Think of these things as . . . critical mechanisms.

  3. Anne, Baudrillard on the brain?

    Okay you don’t say “there are no such things as […]” which may lead one to interpret the ejaculations “No such things!” as an interjection meant to sollicit interaction. I wonder what referent is indexed by the exclamation. Jason’s working categories? Objects and subjects? Both, the relied upon (objects and subjects) and the working categories?

    All of which is to say that “material interaction, human-material interaction, and human peer interaction” all rely on discrete categories (objects or subjects) in-and-of themselves. And I’m one of those wacky people who says: No such things!

    Kaja Silverman in _The Subject of Semiotics_ reminds us that there is the speaking subject, the spoken subject and the subject of speech. I may not have recalled the exact nomenclature correctly. However the point I want to stress is the tripartite structure that does not privelege one of these objects of study as source of the others. Discursive existence, ironically, can still persist even if certain interlocutors (and sometimes very much because certain interlocutors) deny existence to the objects of a discourse. Of course, the objects of a discourse arise out of discursive instances. Humans have that wonderful obstinancy in the face of bold negation to ask what if or to ask under what conditions is it the case that the claimed negation holds.

    All this to lead up to a question for jason about the role of negativity….

  4. jason,

    By pointing to the rich discours on objectivity and subjectivity, Anne does you a great service. There is something dialectical about interaction. In re-reading your entry through the lens of Anne’s comment, I am inclined to think through interaction as a hallmark of the becoming-human. Interaction as meaning making would play with the context, the players and the played. One researcher could frame the context as the parameters offered by the material-material exchanges. Another would emphasis the peer-to-peer sociality. What I am suggesting is that in theorizing interaction there is the possibility of a “doubling” of the terms or the working concepts. That “doubling” offers a tabular view of a matrix of moves. Consider that material-interaction in your typology is conditioned by a history of human-peer interactions which both together in turn condition the possibilities of human-material interaction. This is just one story that can be told from the schema you propose. In a sense you are modeling a three node network with concurrent and successive states.

  5. Kari Kraus has an entry on Nelson Goodman in relation to Pierce’s semiotics


    Reviewing that exchange of commentary, I wonder if interaction, as a species of semiotic process, requires an “interpretant” to use Pierce’s term. Back to Anne and the tree falling in the forest.

    Is interaction, per se, recursive in its nature?
    See para 4.1 Dyads and Dialectics

  6. Jason says:

    Yes! Great comments – and I completely agree.

    Anne, I appreciate the comments (which were exactly *on* target and very useful), as well as the links (which I will tackle soon). One of the reasons I’m fascinated by “interactivity” is because (as I’ve said before) I think the term itself has become empty in common usage (for example, what exactly is an “interactive designer”? – your uneasiness with the term, even as you use it, is exactly the sort of thing that intrigues me).

    And the problem with creating a typology is that it immediately breaks down once you create it. Part of the idea that I want to work towards, however, is that this triangle (and let’s pretend it rotates, just to prevent any one aspect appearing at the “top”) is a gestalt. While you can point to different aspects of “interaction,” they really can’t be separated from the whole and, in fact, the whole is larger than the sum of its parts. I don’t see them as discrete (which is to say, separate from the whole) categories at all, which is what I was starting to get at in the fourth paragraph before my aside about Goodman. Yet even while I too don’t believe in discrete categories, I do have to find some fashion to discuss what I mean by interactivity – thus, the categorical gestalt.

    Which also falls in line with the content/form discussion that periodically rears its head (esp. amongst wordherders here) – I don’t see such distinctions falling into such an easily described binary. In thinking through what we mean by “content” and “form,” I’ve seen the many ways they actually interact (e.g., are inseparable), rather the ways in which they are distinct.

    In any case – these are exactly the things I have listed on my writing plan that underlies the “to be continued” at the end of my post. The basic premise is this: in each of the 3 categories, there exists interaction. But there is also interaction *between* the three categories. Any attempt to catalog all of the possible nuances would be nigh-impossible, but there must be some way to distinguish if I’m talking about the interaction between material objects (say, the chemical interaction in Blake’s illuminated printing), the interpretative process of engaging Blake’s work, and the social relationships between scholars and students of Blake – each of these are interactive processes (and each informs the other).

    Matt, I agree that the process (and the potential language that springs from it) is in itself a useful endeavor. For as many reasons that I find Goodman problematic, I also find him compelling. If fact, I’ve thought a lot about how “failure” can be a good and useful thing, and I think Goodman’s “failure” to produce a working semiotics of all media in turn left us with a major contribution to scholarship. Critical mechanisms – I like the term – it allows for experimentation in writing and thinking, and it sounds much nicer than “useful failure” 😉

    Francois – that sort of matrix is very much in line with my “gestalt” notion. The “interaction” between the different elements (and their shaping of one another), as I mentioned above, is precisely what I am working on in my “to be continued” part. In your reference to researchers looking at different aspects, that is actually quite in line with what drives part of my thinking. As an example: in my interest in gaming – and especially MMO (massively multiplayer online) games – a difficulty arises as to whether one is speaking of the game engine itself, the relationship of game to player, or the player’s relationships with other players (both in and out of the game). Now, of course these are not mutually exclusive, but I also think we need a slightly more subtle precision to our critical language beyond calling games “interactive.” In those trying to chart a narrative of such a play session, there are clearly more several “narratives” at play at any one time.

    Hope this hasty response from work makes sense! Thanks for all of the thoughtful comments and helpful links.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.