Wild State Touch Interface

Completed for Phil van Allen’s New Ecologies of Things course at the Art Center, this project presents prospective interactants with a touch interface that doesn’t “want” to be touched.

When touch screen interface devices are found in the wild, their shielding appendages haven’t been clipped yet. As you might expect, these appendages have to be surgically removed before the devices can be domesticated and shipped for sale.

This design explores a familiar user interface paradigm (touch screen interaction) and reframes it as invasive, awkward, and potentially erotic. In this way, I treat the interactions between humans and objects as themselves rituals to be tinkered with and defamiliarized.

By frustrating the typical user expectations about touch interfaces, I recast the iPod touch as an animistic object whose skittish behavior suggests trauma. While the object follows a user with its “gaze”, it clamps shut in response when one attempts to touch it forcefully. Instead, users need to earn the object’s trust before it will allow itself to be touched or stroked—an action that triggers a change in the object’s data-visualization display.

This approach to animism drew inspiration from Phil van Allen’s critique of ubicomp’s utopian fantasies and Brenda Laurel’s writing on animism (2008).