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Transforming Mirrors : Introduction

Contents / Intro / Art Context / Models / Navigation / Media / Mirrors / Automata / Conclusion

A technology is interactive to the degree that it reflects the consequences of our actions or decisions back to us. It follows that an interactive technology is a medium through which we communicate with ourselves... a mirror. The medium not only reflects back, but also refracts what it is given; what is returned is ourselves, transformed and processed. To the degree that the technology reflects ourselves back recognizably, it provides us with a self-image, a sense of self. To the degree that the technology transforms our image in the act of reflection, it provides us with a sense of the relation between this self and the experienced world. This is analogous to our relationship with the universe. Newton's First Law, stating that "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction," implies that everything is a mirror. We discover our 'selves' in the mirror of the universe.

The purpose of this text is to explore the implications of interactive media through the lens provided by interactive artists and their work. Interactive artworks are revealing because the artists creating them have taken McLuhan's oft-repeated dictum, "The Medium is the Message" literally. The mirror is used as a technique of expression. While engineers strive to maintain the illusion of transparency in the design and refinement of media technologies, artists explore the meaning of the interface itself, using the various transformations of the media as their palette.

The expressive power of the interface, in conjunction with the increasing 'apparent' transparency of interface technologies raises complicated ethical issues regarding subjectivity and control. Interactive artists are in a position to take the lead in generating a discussion of these concerns, but, on the other hand, are also in danger of becoming apologists for industrial, corporate, and institutional uses of these technologies. An awareness of the contradictions inherent in mediated interactivity is essential if we, as a society, are to move into the future with our eyes open. (Next / Contents

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Copyright 1996 David Rokeby / Very Nervous Systems / All rights reserved. 3/7/96