SOMEWHERE OFF THE REAL. Voice-controlled interfaces and their media-critical mediation
SOMEWHERE OFF THE REAL considers interfaces as conjunctions of possiblilities, histories and underlying factors of digital media. Interfaces enable and shape interaction with digital information and communication technologies. The predominantly female-coded design of voice control, which is increasingly found in smart devices, derives from the history of a gendered division of labor and traditional social roles in society. The paper argues that our interactions with digital technologies determine our relationship to them. These processes are illuminated by the artistic practices of Melanie Hoff and Joy Buolamwini. With Draw What You Think Alexa Looks Like (2019), Melanie Hoff demonstrates that the design of interfaces of voice controlled technologies greatly influences how they are perceived. Joy Buolamwini's works substantiate the culturally programmed view of algorithms on humans. The paper summarizes a multi-level interrogation of digital technologies and illustrates the political (power) relations inscribed in them. Artistic strategies can aid in making these relationships visible and negotiable. Affective human connections are contrasted here with the implied assumptions of machines. The concepts presented are deepened in the author's own artistic work OFFREAL. The focus is on visual aspects of service provider simulations. In addition to the female-coded voice, many avatars are designed according to pop-cultural ideals of beauty, which raises political and representational questions. The categories race and gender remain contested in the discourse on virtual bodies. Overall, SOMEWHERE OFF THE REAL argues for a critical consideration of the increasing female-coded embodiment of interfaces, factoring in structural contexts.
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