Topological Entanglements through the Interface: Geographies of the Schnittstelle

Authors: Till Straube*, Goethe University Frankfurt, Marc Boeckler*, University of Frankfurt
Topics: Cartography
Keywords: portals, interface, topology, digital geographies
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/9/2020
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Plaza Court 8, Sheraton, Concourse Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


With digital devices in the focus of much geographic research, the interface has emerged as an intriguing site of inquiry into the politics of control, affect and visibility surrounding digital technologies.

My efforts to deploy the interface in German-language texts have highlighted its polysemy: In German, “Oberfläche” (literally “surface”) pertains to human-machine interfaces, while those interfaces that do not routinely engage humans (like APIs or hardware connections) are referred to as “Schnittstelle”. The literal meaning of the latter—“cutting point”—is my motivating irritation to explore the interface not as a point of interoperation and connection between preexisting systems, but as a site of boundary-work, entanglement and spacetimemattering.

Drawing on software engineering practices and early models of the stack, the interface can be read as a practical effort to compartmentalize complex devices into more manageable, black-boxed modules and layers. The Schnittstelle ‘cuts’ off and stabilizes distinct digital subsystems, allowing them to operate along idiosyncratic abstractions of direction, repetition, distance, connection, identity… of time and space. Interfaces function as hinges between these computational topologies; as folds; as portals that divide by connection.

My account engages with APIs, wrappers, ports and protocols as opportunities to glimpse at these strange time-spaces and their dis/continuities. The interface comes into view as performative topological articulation; as a post-human worlding device. How can we start thinking about what passes through these portals? Is it possible to understand technical diagrams as literal maps—projections of machine-spaces? Are human-machine interfaces similarly passage points to the ‘anthropotope’?

Now you’re thinking with portals.

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