Søren Pold, "Interface Realisms: The Interface as Aesthetic Form," Postmodern Culture 15:2 (2005).
The graphical user interface (GUI) as we know it does not stem from an aesthetic tradition, but from an engineering tradition that has paradoxically tried to get rid of it.
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If the computer and the interface really had become truly invisible and transparent, computers would mingle almost seamlessly with the world as we know it–perhaps making it a bit "smarter." If this were true, digital technologies would probably not have any paradigmatic effect on culture and aesthetics since they would not make a marked difference, but of course reality has proven otherwise, and we can now begin to acknowledge the massive cultural and aesthetic impact of digital technologies.
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What is an interface? The purpose of the interface is to represent the data, the dataflow, and data structures of the computer to the human senses, while simultaneously setting up a frame for human input and interaction and translating this input back into the machine. Interfaces have many different manifestations and the interface is generally a dynamic form, a dynamic representation of the changing states of the data or software and of the user's interaction. Consequently, the interface is not a static, material object. Still it is materialized, visualized, and has the effect of a (dynamic) representational form.
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The interface aims to visualise invisible data. It is a new kind of image originating in an engineering tradition and can be understood as an extension of instruments like radar and scientific tools, which do not represent any analogue image of reality but rather sheer data.11 As formulated by Scott deLahunta, the interface is "more information than likeness; more measurement than representation." Consequently, realism is the dominant representational mode of the interface, even though it is a complex, informational, and postmodern realism.12 In the following, I shall point out three rather different kinds of interface realism: illusionistic, media, and functional realism.