February 18, 2009
Windows and Mirrors: Interaction Design, Digital Art, and the Myth of Transparency
By Jay David Bolter and Diane Gromala
The MIT Press
xii, 182 p.
The basic premise is that a computer’s interface doesn’t always try to disappear; some artworks and other objects foreground it and confront us with it, and they are more interesting because of this. “[T]he computer is not becoming invisible in our culture” according to this incisive book, which surveys severals interesting projects, as a good catalog would, while also framing the discussion with real theoretical and conceptual insight. If there’s any flaw in this gem, it’s that the analysis is fixed too intently on the interface level at times, as if that were the only thing that defined digital systems. Their underlying functioning (to say nothing of their code or platform) is often elided. In the discussion of Terminal Time by Michael Mateas et al., this is a particular problem: The nature of the project as an AI system is passed over for its “user-centered design,” visuals, and questionnaires. Still, Windows and Mirrors sheds a great deal of light on its enigmatic main object, the interface.