Published OnlineEdited and Accepted Articles

Politics at the Interface: Habit-Change in the Mobile, Connected Present—The Case of Ward One App / Heidi Rae Cooley

Heidi Rae Cooley
Associate Professor, Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication, University of Texas at Dallas, the United States of America



Reference this essay: Cooley, Heidi Rae. “Politics at the Interface: Habit-Change in the Mobile, Connected Present—The Case of Ward One App.” In Urban Interfaces: Media, Art and Performance in Public Spaces, edited by Verhoeff, Nanna, Sigrid Merx, and Michiel de Lange. Leonardo Electronic Almanac 22, no. 4 (March 15, 2019).
Published Online: March 15, 2019
Published in Print: edit
ISBN: edit
ISSN: 1071-4391
Repository: edit

This essay considers how mobile software applications for geo-locative touchscreen device might alter habits of interpreting place. It takes up Alexander Galloway’s The Interface Effect and Branden Hookway’s Interface as timely and useful theorizations of the interface as a site of mediation, relation, and address. However, the author argues that neither theory provides a particularly useful language for describing what real world politics ‘at the interface’ might look like. Rather, Charles Sanders Peirce’s semiotic and its accompanying theorization of habit-change better equip us to explain how social, political intervention might be accomplished at the interface, where the geo-locative touchscreen devices we routinely have in hand might provoke new ways of understanding and experiencing otherwise familiar public spaces. Ward One App, a geo-locative mobile application currently being developed at the University of South Carolina, serves as a point of departure for considering the usefulness of Peircean habit-change for a ‘politics at the interface.’

Keywords:  Habit-change, interface, politics, secondness, semiosis, Ward One App


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Caption: Figure 1 – 800 Block of Assembly Street, Columbia, South Carolina, Ward One App, 2015. Photograph by students enrolled in the spring 2015 Critical Interactives course, University of South Carolina, USA. Ward One App, 2015. Used with permission.


On the Street, at the Interface 

Imagine that you are standing on Assembly Street between Greene and College Streets in Columbia, South Carolina (United States) (see figure 1). Traffic is light, although a few pedestrians enter into your field of vision at the periphery. The sky is clear, blue. You face west to see across the street the Koger Center, a performance venue on the University of South Carolina campus next to the university’s music school. To the right (north) of these two structures stands the Arnold School of Public Health. To the left (south), the Darla Moore School of Business, and just beyond that building, the giant Coliseum. The oldest building on these three blocks, the Coliseum was completed in 1968 and imagined at the time as an educational and entertainment hub for the state. You find yourself amidst a notably modern and grandiose, but otherwise unremarkable institutional streetscape. 

Whether you are a visitor to campus or resident there, you are unlikely to know that a vibrant and predominately African American community called Ward One once occupied these blocks. [1] Nothing on site prompts awareness of the histories that invisibly press up against the contemporary built environment. Yet the neighborhood refuses to disappear. The Ward One Organization, whose membership includes former residents of the old ward, actively works in the community to ensure “the shared history and legacies of a predominantly African American community” are not forgotten. [2] In support of this effort, former residents and Organization members are working with students and faculty at the University of South Carolina to develop a mobile application for iPhone called Ward One App. Leveraging the affordances of the geo-locative touchscreen device, Ward One App confronts its interactors with evidence of the former Ward One community, its neighborhoods, schools, churches, and businesses. It does so on site and in (near) real time.

For example, on the 800 block of Assembly Street, facing the Koger Center, an interactor might find that the Ward One App, tracking her geo-coordinates, has recognized her location. It pushes to the touchscreen device a notification, announcing that she is near 827 Assembly Street, the former residence of Mattie (Johnson) Anderson-Roberson. Holding up the device, an archival photograph of Mattie’s childhood home may be seen to overlay its camera’s real-time image: Mattie’s home stands, here and now, in spite of the house’s physical absence (see figure 2). In that moment, Mattie’s house, its indexical image, interrupts the ordinary, everyday view of the street. It insists on being seen, acknowledged. Our ‘sense’ of place shifts as the pulsing blue navigational bead points to something other than the university facility we may have expected to reach. Sentient processes that usually serve to facilitate seamless navigation of place now confront us with new historical perspective. We feel location (but also, geo-locative processes) differently.

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Caption: Figure 2 – 825, 827, and 829 Assembly Street, Columbia, 1957 (Photographs 13025.32), Joseph E. Winter Photograph Collection, 1957. Mattie Roberson’s birthplace and childhood home. Photograph by students enrolled in the spring 2015 Critical Interactives course, University of South Carolina, USA. Archival photograph by Joseph E. Winter. Joseph E. Winter Photograph Collection, University of South Carolina Libraries, 1957. Used with permission.

This description of an encounter afforded by the geo-locative touchscreen device serves as a point of departure for an argument about how urban interfaces might function to facilitate habit-change in the mobile, connected present. This essay considers Alexander Galloway’s The Interface Effect and Branden Hookway’s Interface as timely and useful theorizations of the interface as a site of mediation, relation, and address. [3] It is specifically interested in their claims regarding how the interface might catalyze new social, political awareness. However, it argues that neither theory provides a particularly useful language for describing the kind of experience Ward One App aspires to provoke in its interactors, which it sees as simultaneously empathic and political intervention. The essay proposes that Charles Sanders Peirce’s semiotic and its accompanying theorization of habit-change equip us more effectively to explain how social, political intervention might be accomplished at the interface, where the geo-locative touchscreen devices we routinely have in hand might engender new understandings of otherwise familiar urban public spaces and revise our affiliations with others in the process.  


Theorizing the Interface: Alexander Galloway and Branden Hookway 

In The Interface Effect, Alexander Galloway urges us to move beyond a more conventional understanding of the interface that evokes images of “thresholds, doorways, and windows.” [4] Such figures, he explains, readily translate into expectations for transparency, intuitiveness, and friendliness. These familiar characterizations lurk in the language user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) designers frequently employ and subsequently govern design agendas that aim to produce technologies that blend or disappear into the background to better serve end-users. Instead, Galloway seeks a more complex interpretation of the interface, one that understands an interface to be a site of negotiation. Citing François Dagognet, Galloway turns to phrases such as “fertile nexus” and  “area of choice” to characterize the transactions that activate the interface. [5] To think of the interface as an “area of choice,” for example, underscores the fact that the “interface is this state of ‘being on the boundary.’” [6] He continues: “It is that moment where one significant material is understood as distinct from another significant material. In other words, the interface is not a thing… It is always a process or translation.” [7] Importantly, Galloway draws attention to the temporal and processual character of the interface. The interface is not a discrete technology; or, to reiterate Galloway’s crucial point, the interface is not a thing. Rather, it is an active, relational, and generative effect.

Like Galloway, Branden Hookway defines the interface in terms of relationality. [8] The interface, he states concisely in Interface, is a “form of relation” between two or more entities, human and machine. [9] He promptly qualifies this initial definition by describing this relation as “active,” that is, actively maintained and policed. [10] Here, Hookway aptly underscores the dynamic tension at work—but also, at stake—in sustaining a state of “reciprocity” between entities. “Maintaining” and “policing” communicate a sense of care, on one hand, and warn of possible breach or collapse, on the other. There is a kind of fragility attributable to the interface. Later, Hookway characterizes this tension as “a mediated condition that is both inhabited and worked through,” lived and managed as human and machine hold together at and through the interface. [11] In relation, they constitute a “mutually communicative system” that depends upon “mutual entrainment.” [12] 

In Hookway’s account, successful interfacing opens onto augmentation. Augmentation, as he describes it, occurs when an object no longer demands attention. At this moment, the interface disappears, so to speak, no longer requiring conscious attention. When this happens we are in the province of “tacit knowing,” a kind of knowing that is “non- or pre-rational, primordial”; it is nonconscious–‘natural,’ to recall the goal of good UI and UX design. [13] Drawing on Michael Polanyi, Hookway explains, “tacit knowing…may nonetheless be opened up by another kind of knowing,” it may “[open] up as a territory to be developed.” [14] Importantly, this ’opening up‘ is the condition of possibility for politics (even as it frequently re-interpellates us as productive user-consumers). Hookway states: “Within augmentation the subject of technology and the subject of politics meet.” [15]

It is less clear what concrete forms such a politics might take. Hookway himself does not provide a viable example. His language remains abstract and hypothetical—cryptic, even: “augmentation reveals as-yet-unrevealed aspects of humanness … [it] is a bringing forth into existence of that which otherwise would not have existed.” [16] From Martin Heidegger and poiesis, Hookway moves onto Søren Kierkegaard and “exception,” which bifurcates into references to Carl Schmitt’s “theory of the political” and Giorgio Agamben’s “paradox of sovereignty.” [17] This telegraphic intellectual itinerary concludes with the observation that “creative production” has the potential to reveal “the linkages to systems of power that might otherwise remain concealed.” [18] While this conclusion is conceptually appealing, and the language for describing the process seductive, it is difficult to conceptualize what this looks like in the tangible world of people and technologies. Nor is it clear whether Heideggerian poiesis, Schmitt’s friend-enemy antithesis, or Agambenian “bare life” should guide a politically successful interface design. 

Galloway’s ‘unworkable interface’ offers a similarly abstracted, but more singularly focused political guidance. As a proposal, the ‘unworkable interface’ has the virtue of being counter-intuitive. After all, we expect to work with and through the various interfaces we encounter on a daily basis, whether we are withdrawing cash at an ATM, determining a best and/or alternative route to a destination using our vehicle’s navigational system, or checking email. In presenting readers with the conundrum of an interface that is good because it does not work, Galloway activates the productive tension entailed in his conception of interfaces as processes that are most ideological when they seem most transparent. Insofar as it calls attention to the process of interfacing, an ‘unworkable’ interface actually works better, Galloway contends. It directly addresses its user-viewer, challenges her to confront realities she might otherwise overlook, and ruptures any simple, rote or passive engagement with its affordances. It does so in order to establish a productive awareness in its addressee of the relation between what it presents (and how) and an outside (i.e., out of frame or off screen)—which Galloway eventually refers to as “the social.” [19] 

The notion that the interface has the potential to provoke an awareness of, and in relation to, ‘the social’ has a good deal in common with my own view. Galloway further frames the computer (metonymic for the interface) in terms of an ethic. Galloway means ‘ethic’ pragmatically, or at least in practical terms (rather than moral terms). An ethic “describes general principles for practice” and how those principles, when executed, “form a world” and produce an effect. [20] At the interface, real change—new social, political awareness—can occur—and not simply at the level of representation, that is, images on a screen. Rather, as Galloway posits it, new social, political awareness requires that we recognize our implication in the how the world works.

Galloway’s example is less helpful. In the postscript to The Interface Effect, he returns to his earlier (in the book) discussion of World of Warcraft as an ‘unworkable’ interface. His initial analysis draws attention to how the nondiegetic overlays displaying information about player characters and gameplay (e.g., dials, status bars, maps, character icons) punctuate the diegetic, representationally coherent space of the gameworld. Furthermore, he explains that beyond their usefulness for gameplay, these overlays lend themselves to social analysis. In the case of World of Warcraft, not only do they comment on the kind of labor gameplay rewards (e.g., circulation of resources, production of objects, etc.), but they also call upon us to recognize that “We are the gold farmers.” [21] That is, “in the age of postfordist capitalism it is impossible to differentiate clearly between play and work.” [22] We as “users” of computational devices “perform scads of unpaid micro labor”; our GPS coordinates, our “likes,” etc., proliferate data that circulate as minable value in digital markets that address each of us with ever greater specificity. [23] Where one might expect a call for the gold farmers of the world to unite, however, Galloway calls on us to inhabit a sociality called “the whatever.” [24] 

It would doubtlessly be challenging to transform the World of Warcraft interface, no matter how ‘unworkable,’ into a mechanism for challenging a postfordist economy. Galloway notably sidesteps that project. Instead, the whatever returns us to the same abstract, uninhabitable non-place where Hookway leaves us. The whatever, as Galloway characterizes it, is a being in common (with others) that “is achieved by those who have nothing in common.” [25] Effacing both representational aesthetics and representational politics, it celebrates incoherence, incontinence, and transformation. But such ‘dissolution’ into the common, the “generic,” in order to experience “direct immanence in matter” is simply not practicable. [26] Nor are Galloway’s so-called practical suggestions, which characterize a whatever approach to living: “Demilitarize being. Stand down. Cease participating in the system of subjective predication. Stop trying to liberate your desire. Forget 1968. Don’t ‘let it be,’ leave be.” [27] Real and bodied people who traverse everyday urban spaces are unlikely to find these bumper sticker slogans actionable. Ultimately, Galloway, like Hookway, offers an account of a politics based on negation: interruptions of the status quo, which may clear space for change, but without a positive account of change.


Charles Sanders Peirce and Habit-change 

The American pragmatist Charles Sanders Peirce may seem an unlikely person to turn to for political advice. [28] Many find his writings esoteric, seemingly far removed from the practicalities of the everyday. But Peirce’s account of semiosis, or meaning-making, is grounded in the practical—observable, subject to experimentation, and experientially verifiable. It is crucial to emphasize that semiosis unfolds as habit, which is why it can be observed, tested, and confirmed (or confirmed as evolving or changed). Moreover, semiosis, for Peirce, is inherently social—and therefore never static. Belonging to a community of interpreters, semiosis materializes as a ‘readiness’ to act. Such readiness informs a community of interpreters’ shared semiotic conventions, which at a very fundamental level regulate reason and belief and, therefore, action. Under certain conditions or circumstances a person “would-do,” “would-act,” or “would-be” in a general manner as made possible by her given socio-historical context. [29] When, without further reflection, the fact that we, who are familiar with navigational software, interpret the pulsing blue bead that appears on our mobile screens as indicating our physical location on the ground, our shared interpretive habit follows this logic. 

At the same time, Peirce understands habit to be influenced by context. The future conditional status of the ‘would-be’ of habit does not always result in any successful fulfillment of anticipated action. For example, a disorienting map (including the analog accordion-folded road map) may very well jolt us out of our habitual wayfinding. Habit understood in this manner embraces change, although it does not guarantee it. While repetition of a particular behavior might perpetuate already existing patterns of behavior, it might very well result in an alteration of habitual behavior. The effects of such change manifest as continued behavior of a different sort and, according to Peirce, last until such time as habit change occurs again. In other words, habit and habit-change are inextricably linked. This linkage occurs in the moments when the individual is, to quote Peirce, “just coming into life in the flow of time,” that is, just prior to conscious awareness (or, to recall Hookway, ‘tacit knowing’)—and, I would add, in the time of our devices’ micro-processes. [30]

Peirce refers to such emergent consciousness as secondness. Secondness is one of three states of consciousness. Firstness refers to the quality of being, or state of mind; it is presentness. Thirdness, on the other hand, refers to thought or understanding, which is governed by habit; it is generalizing and produces continuity—otherwise, communication would be impossible. For Peirce, thirdness (convention), which is the ‘would-be’ of habit, mediates the relation between firstness (mode of feeling) and secondness (sensation of reaction), the latter two of which are only separable analytically, not in actual experience. 

Secondness is the condition of possibility for habit-change. In Peirce’s schema, it refers to the sense of reaction or surprise, or disturbance. It is the condition of struggle, effort, or resistance. Peirce calls it a “particular tinge of consciousness,” a “kind of consciousness which is intensified by attention,” and he uses the word ‘vividness’ to describe its quality. [31] Any experience of increased attention, as instantiated by some “brute force,” interrupts the matter-of-factness of habitual thought or understanding. [32] Peirce offers a straightforward but useful example: 

If in pitch darkness a tremendous flash of lightning suddenly comes, you are ready to admit having received a shock and being acted upon, but that you reacted you may be inclined to deny. You certainly did so, however, and are conscious of having done so. The sense of shock is as much a sense of resisting as of being acted upon. So it is when anything strikes the senses. [33]

The shock catalyzed by the flash of lightning disrupts the generality of darkness; we are confronted with a juxtaposition that produces a reaction, one of surprise but also resistance. Peirce explains that “the instant of surprise” opens onto a “double consciousness”: on the one hand, one’s expected because persisting state of being (that of darkness) and, on the other hand, the abrupt intrusion into that state by the sudden flash of lightning. [34] Such a situation activates, as Carl Hausman explains, a “[pre-interpretive] compulsion” toward interpretation. [35] We want resolution; we seek a return to a state of generality, a return to normality, even if that normality is revised or new. Normality, revised or new, is habit-change—perhaps of the variety that Galloway seeks in asserting, “we are the gold farmers,” but from which his “whatever” retreats. [36]


Back on the Street and at the Interface: Ward One App and Peircean Habit-change 

Ward One App has been conceived as an experiment in habit-change. It aims to intervene in routine navigational practices by punctuating or interrupting experiences of familiar places. The point is to provoke in interactors not only different understandings of the urban landscape but also new habits of looking at it and of relating to others by means of their interfaces. The photographic overlay I described at the opening of the essay provokes (for most) the shock of Piercian secondness. In the juxtaposition of archival photograph and real-time camera view, interactors inhabit the ‘ah-ha’ of connection—between a here-and-now of the urban streetscape and the past as conveyed through the language of those who lived back then. The experience requires them to rethink where they are, how the place where they stand has a history, and how that history has been elided.  

In order to extend the work of reinterpretation beyond places to people, Ward One App includes personal accounts of former Ward One residents. For example, upon witnessing the photographic overlay of Mattie Johnson’s childhood home, the interactor is offered an opportunity to listen to Mattie speak about living in Ward One:

Actually, when I came back home to visit, they [were] saying that the University of South Carolina was going to take over the entire community of Ward One. As a matter of fact, when I was younger, we couldn’t even play on the campus of the University; we weren’t allowed to do so. That was my first introduction to higher education…As a child, you have desires…you want to go on to college…And we used to ask my mom all the time, ‘Why can’t we go right across the street? Why do we have to go somewhere else—across town?’ (Then it was Allen and Benedict.) And she used to say, ‘Well, Mattie,’ … ‘they don’t want you’—whoever ‘they’ was. ‘They don’t want black folks to go to the University…You know if you can’t play on the campus, you can’t go sit up in a classroom.’ That’s what she used to say to us.

Mattie’s voice, full and reflective—strong—communicates a striking historical reality that differs dramatically from contemporary experiences of many of those who find themselves seated in university classrooms or traversing the campus. Mattie’s account of growing up in the shadows of the university offers a counter-narrative to official discourses that foreground ‘progress’ and ‘improvement’ that university expansion has long espoused and that may seem self-evident to pedestrians traversing the landscape. 

Were we to venture two blocks south on Assembly Street, we would arrive at the Coliseum. This gigantic multi-purpose arena was among the first university structures built in the ward. In retrospect, it portends the magnitude of the university’s transformation of the neighborhood. For current students, this enormous structure will seem to have always been there—indeed, it has been standing decades longer than they have been alive. Equipped with the Ward One App, such a student would receive a push notification and, in this case, could access archival local television footage of a press conference (attended by white men only):

We feel that this building should make a tremendous impact in the state of South Carolina, the Midlands area, and the city of Columbia. We need this, of course, primarily for academic and university uses. However, this is such a tremendous facility that the city and the state is (sic) bound to realize extra income from the people who will be coming in to view attractions in the Coliseum. (Unidentified man)

It’s really difficult to realize the magnitude of a building like this. Tremendously large, large enough that inside of it, you can put all of the skyscrapers in Columbia—right inside of it—and still have room left over. This building, I think, will be the continuing education center, the cultural center, and the great mass spectator entertainment center of South Carolina because of its great capability and size, and the flexibility that’s been built into it. It’s really hard to conceive of the hundreds of thousands of people that will attend events in this building every year. (USC President Thomas F. Jones) [37]

Unedited outtakes showing construction-in-progress follow. These extreme long shots of the construction site filmed from the rooftop of the university tower opposite the site offer an expansive, privileged view. In combination, USC President Thomas F. Jones’s speculations about the Coliseum and the silent camera’s commanding bird’s eye view of the facility intercut with images of the President and Columbia mayor, Lester Bates, overseeing the development in stately fashion contrast pointedly with Mattie Johnson’s memories about not being allowed to play on the campus grounds.

Archival footage and images coupled with and in counterpoint to the voices of former Ward One residents in the context of the contemporary urban landscape produce a tension—and challenge our normative relations to our current location as mediated by our geo-locative technologies. Time and again, here and now butt up against back then, striking a perceptual chord of Peircean secondness that opens onto new awareness, new sensibility, new understanding. In the moment of contrast between the contemporary landscape and content pushed to screen by Ward One App, instances of historical erasure are made impossible: forgetting is no longer sanctioned here. It is hoped that a new habit of thought—Peircean thirdness—takes form.



In challenging interactors to confront a history that intrudes upon the contemporary landscape of the University of South Carolina, Ward One App serves as an active response to the ‘enforced forgetting’ that past discriminatory policies instantiated in the name of civic good. ‘Enforced forgetting,’ as Lisa Nakamura and Peter Chow-White employ it, refers to the ways in which race as a technology operates to “create specific forms of oppression and discrimination.” [38] Wendy Chun makes explicit this point. In her essay “Race and/as Technology or How to Do Things to Race,” she argues: “Race … was wielded—and is still wielded—as an invaluable mapping tool.” [39] It serves as “a means by which origins and boundaries are simultaneously traced and constructed.” [40] In doing so, it rationalizes and thereby makes invisible, and subsequently, forgettable, lines that divide—quite literally, in the case of redlining practices, redistricting initiatives, and zoning ordinances. Such efforts serve to shape urban landscapes throughout the US, determining where people might purchase homes, what amenities they might access, and how they might come to be represented at local, state, and national levels. In Columbia, SC, such efforts underpinned the 1950s “Fight the Blight” campaign that resulted in the displacement of African American families and businesses, the demolition of churches and the appropriation of the local high school, which made possible the expansion of the state’s flagship research institution. [41]

By drawing attention to how race operates as a mapping tool, Chun underscores the fact that race is not simply a “what”; race is not something that can be neatly categorized because objectively observed and interpretable as an essential quality. [42] Rather, race is always already a “how,” that is, a “doing.” [43] In the case of mid-century urban renewal projects throughout the US, ‘doing’ played out through the implementation of federally sanctioned policies that made it possible to deem certain urban areas ‘unfit’ and consequently attribute physical deterioration of property (broadly interpreted) to a supposed lack of personal initiative and/or community responsibility. [44] In acknowledging such practices (which continue in the present), we shift, as Chun asserts, from matters of ontology to questions of ethics; we reframe the discussion in terms of “modes of recognition and relation, rather than being [i.e., essence].” [45] Doing so becomes the condition of possibility for change. 

Ward One App endeavors to reframe the present with respect to the past in order to intervene in contemporary interpretations of place. Those who interact with Ward One App are invited to experience a constellation of stories of and about place in situ, to bear witness to the neighborhoods that are no longer present, and to grasp more concretely what and how ‘progress’ means and to whom, and under what circumstances. In this way, Ward One App functions as a ‘counter-mapping tool,’ drawing different lines of association to reveal, for example, the persistence of racial logics that continue to structure and rationalize how the university understands itself and its place in Columbia, SC. 

Leveraging the geo-locative touchscreen device in order to rupture the status quo of everyday navigation, Ward One App demonstrates how a politics at the interface might take place. Content presenting an unacknowledged history of urban renewal populates the touchscreen, rendering its surface productively unworkable (à la Galloway). Tacit knowing (à la Hookway)—a formulation akin to Percian thirdness, or habit—acquires political value as a positivity. [46] Here, newly piqued awareness resolves into a new form of affiliation, perhaps a newfound suspicion of the forces involved in making landscapes what they are. Ward One App’s project does not aspire to negation—be it of ‘the sovereign’ or ‘capital.’ Its politics are rather smaller than that. And certainly, they are more local—but also, more concrete. They are a politics to which those concerned with mobile interfaces should always attend. 



The author would like to thank the editors for conceiving of and organizing the Urban Interfaces special issue, as well as the readers whose generous feedback ensured productive revision of this essay. The author has benefitted from conversations with colleague Mihai Nadine regarding Charles Sanders Peirce’s semiotic and pragmaticism. Moreover, the author extends her appreciation to her collaborator, computer scientist Duncan Buell, and the students who have devoted themselves to working on Ward One App. And it goes without saying that the Ward One App project would not be possible without the collaboration of former Ward One residents and members of the Ward One Organization.

Author Biography 

Heidi Rae Cooley is an associate professor of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication and co-director of the Public Interactives Research Lab at the University of Texas at Dallas. A media theorist, she integrates theory and practice to investigate emerging “smart” technologies and the habits they engender, as well as how those technologies might serve the purposes of habits-change. Her monograph, Finding Augusta: Habits of Mobility and Governance in the Digital Era (2014), along with its digital supplement Augusta App, received the 2015 Anne Friedberg Innovative Scholarship Award from the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. Recent essays have appeared in Applied Media Studies (Routledge 2018) and Making Things and Drawing Boundaries: Experiments in the Digital Humanities (Minnesota 2017), as well as Journal of Television and New Media. She is working on a second book project tentatively titled “Critical Interface Design.”

Notes and References 

[1] Ward One was a local voting district that took root during the years after Emancipation (1863), and was solidified in the face of Jim Crow policies (1877-1950s) and segregation (1950s-1960s). The intervening years witnessed two landmark events that provide additional historical context for understanding race relations in the mid-twentieth century US: (1) Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) declared ‘separate but equal’ to be unconstitutional; (2) the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or nationality. More specifically, the federal Housing Acts of 1937, 1949, and 1954 fueled nationwide urban renewal policies that empowered cities “to eliminate slums, rehabilitate salvageable buildings, and prevent the decline of as yet unaffected areas” (Richey 2004, 7- 8). Not coincidentally, ‘rehabilitation’ efforts equated notions of ‘blight’ and ‘slums’ with black communities—as was the case in Columbia, SC. Designated a ‘blighted’ area by the Columbia Housing Authority (ca. 1957-1975), the old ward became the target of a stringent project of rehabilitation. Beginning in the 1960s, the City of Columbia and the Columbia Housing Authority appropriated properties. These transactions ultimately benefitted the University of South Carolina, which was eager to expand its flagship campus. Staci Richey, “Variation on a Theme: Planning for the Elimination of Black Neighborhoods in Downtown Columbia, South Carolina, 1905-1970” (master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 2004).

[2] See: Mattie Anderson-Roberson, “History,” Ward One Community, accessed October 5, 2017,

[3] Alexander Galloway, The Interface Effect (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2012); Branden Hookway, Interface (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014), Kindle.

[4] Galloway, The Interface Effect, 32.

[5] Ibid., 33.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Hookway, Interface.

[9] Ibid., loc. 97, emphasis in original.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., loc. 847.

[12] Ibid., loc. 1877; Ibid., loc 2141.

[13] Ibid., loc. 2197; Ibid., loc. 2241.

[14] Ibid., loc. 2218; Ibid., loc. 2241.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., loc. 2730.

[17] Ibid., loc. 2730. Hookway’s concluding sentence reads: “In the relation of human beings to machines, it is the potential value of an interface theory to trace out such relations in all of the flows and turbulences in which they occur, and to find in them the linkages to systems of power that might otherwise remain concealed” (loc. 2753).

[18] Ibid., loc. 2753.

[19] Galloway, The Interface Effect, 42, emphasis in original.

[20] Ibid., 22; Ibid., 23.

[21] Ibid., 135, emphasis in original.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid., 136.

[24] Ibid., 139, emphasis in original.

[25] Ibid., 142. This interpretation of sociality contrasts pointedly with Charles Sanders Peirce’s ‘community of interpreters,’ as we will see.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid., 143, emphasis in original.

[28] For many scholars in Film and Media Studies and related disciplines, Charles Sanders Peirce is known for his triadic structure of the sign (‘sign,’ referring to signifiers, or perhaps signifying vehicles). For Peirce, signs may be iconic, operating according to likeness or verisimilitude; they may be indexical, having a causal relation to that which they represent; and they may be symbolic, producing meaning according to arbitrary but socially conventional rules. Of course, any sign might function according to more than one register of signification, as is the case with photographs, which are both iconic and indexical. (And, of course, when photographs picture signage, the symbolic register comes into view.) In the case of mobile technologies, we can understand our cached geo-coordinates as indexing where we have been, while the pulsing blue bead, which symbolizes the status of our position, appears against a constantly refreshed and re-oriented iconic map canvas. That we share this interpretation of how our navigational interfaces ‘sense’ and inform us about our whereabouts is the product of meaning-making, or more specifically, Peircean semiosis. See: Charles Sanders Peirce, “Sign,” in Peirce on Signs: Writings on Semiotic by Charles Sanders Peirce, ed. James Hooper (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1991), 239-240.

[29] Charles S. Peirce, Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, eds. Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss, vol. 5 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1934), 319; Ibid., 5:331.

[30] Peirce, Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, 5:281.

[31] Peirce, Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, eds. Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss, vol. 6 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1934), 149; Ibid., 6:150 .

[32] Charles Sanders Peirce, “The Logic of Relatives,” in Reasoning and the Logic of Things, ed., Kenneth Laine Ketner (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), 148.

[33] Peirce, Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, 5:32-33.

[34] Ibid., 5:38.

[35] Carl R. Hausman, “Peirce on Interpretation,” in Conversations on Peirce: Reals and Ideals, eds. Douglas R. Anderson and Carl R. Hausman (New York, NY: Fordham University, 2012), 121.

[36] Galloway, The Interface Effect, 135.

[37] “Status of USC Coliseum Construction,” WIS 67 1006, Local television news footage, Moving Image Research Collections, University of South Carolina Libraries. 

[38] Lisa Nakamura and Peter A. Chow-White, “Introduction—Race and Digital Technology: Code, the Color Line, and the Information Society,” in Race after the Internet, ed. Lisa Nakamura and Peter A. Chow-White (New York, NY: Routledge, 2012), 3.

[39] Wendy Hui Kong Chun, “Race and/as Technology or How to Do Things to Race,” in Race after the Internet, ed. Lisa Nakamura and Peter A. Chow-White (New York, NY: Routledge, 2012), 40, my emphasis. See also: Heidi Rae Cooley and Duncan Buell, “Building Humanities Software that Matters: The Case of Ward One Mobile App,” in Making Things and Drawing Boundaries: Experiments in the Digital Humanities, ed. Jentery Sayers (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2017), 272-287.

[40] Chun, “Race and/as Technology or How to Do Things to Race,” 40.

[41] It’s worth noting that in 1974 the University of South Carolina took possession of Booker T. Washington High School, established in 1916 as one of the few schools in Columbia for African American students. While the main building of the former high school was recently renovated and currently houses USC’s Department of Theater and Dance, the two brick wings of the old school were torn down. The bricks from those structures now pave one of two elliptical driveways that define the institution’s historic Horseshoe site.

[42] Chun, “Race and/as Technology or How to Do Things to Race,” 40.

[43] Ibid., 38.

[44] For the most part, African American families did not own their homes; they rented from white property owners.

[45] Chun, “Race and/as Technology or How to Do Things to Race,” 39.

[46] It might be appropriate to refer to this mode of consciousness, that is, the experience of emerging habit, as the firstness of thirdness.


Anderson-Roberson, Mattie. “History.” Ward One Community. Accessed October 5, 2017.

Chun, Wendy Hui Kong. “Race and/as Technology or How to Do Things to Race.” In Race after the Internet, edited by Lisa Nakamura and Peter A. Chow-White, 38-60. New York, NY: Routledge, 2012. 

Cooley, Heidi Rae, and Duncan Buell. “Building Humanities Software that Matters: The Case of Ward One Mobile App.” In Making Things and Drawing Boundaries: Experiments in the Digital Humanities, edited by Jentery Sayers, 272-287. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2017.

Galloway, Alexander. The Interface Effect. Cambridge, MA: Polity, 2012.

Hausman, Carl R. “Peirce on Interpretation.” In Conversations on Peirce: Reals and Ideals, edited by Douglas R. Anderson and Carl R. Hausman, 114-131. New York, NY: Fordham University, 2012.

Hookway, Branden. Interface. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014. Kindle.

Nakamura, Lisa, and Peter A. Chow-White. “Introduction—Race and Digital Technology: Code, the Color Line, and the Information Society.” In Race after the Internet, edited by Lisa Nakamura and Peter A. Chow-White, 1-18. New York, NY: Routledge, 2012.

Peirce, Charles Sanders. Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. Vol. 5, edited by Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1934. 

Peirce, Charles Sanders. “Sign.” In Peirce on Signs: Writings on Semiotic by Charles Sanders Peirce, edited by James Hooper, 239-240. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1991. 

Peirce, Charles Sanders. “The Logic of Relatives.” In Reasoning and the Logic of Things, edited by Kenneth Laine Ketner, 146-164. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992. 

Richey, Staci. “Variation on a Theme: Planning for the Elimination of Black Neighborhoods in Downtown Columbia, South Carolina, 1905-1970.” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 2004.

“Status of USC Coliseum Construction.” WIS 67 1006. Local television news footage. Moving Image Research Collections, University of South Carolina Libraries.