RMeS Masterclass: Spatiotemporal Interface perturbations with James Ash (Newcastle University)

When? 18 January 2019
Where? University of Amsterdam BG 2 0.12, Turfdraagsterpad 15-17, Amsterdam
Time? 14.00-17.00
Coordinator? Dr Alex Gekker (UvA)
Open to? PhD’s and research master students, max 15 participants

The world, we are told, is continuously data-fied and algorithmized, through an ongoing application of computational organizational modes onto routines of work and leisure. Data is the new oil and algorithms will either save or destroy the very fabric of our society. There is, in other words, a profoundly software-centric turn in contemporary media studies, bringing to the fore the material realities of living with and in digital environments. Most users however, do not see data nor feel the algorithms. They experience computation at the level of the various digital interfaces that package and prescribe one’s understanding of the machine “below”. Cambridge Analytica might be an abstract concern for a day or a week, but we tap, click and scroll the Facebook feed every day, and it is through it that we perceive the platform. On the other hand, throughout the design process and its data-intensive collection methods, it is via our interaction with the interfaces that designers generate their own conception of users and attempt to influence them.

This masterclass engages with this dual nature of interface as an encounter between designers and users in daily lives. Specifically, it explores such interfaces from the combined perspectives of media theory and post-phenomenological geography, as interfaces emit subtle influence over how users experience the rhythms of the world, shaped by the interest of those who design them.

The workshop is organized and moderated by Alex Gekker, a lecturer in new media and digital culture at the University of Amsterdam, who published on the production of interfaces in digital cartography and beyond.

The masterclass is given by James Ash, a social scientist working at the intersection between human geography and media. He is located at Newcastle University, where he is a Senior Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies. Specifically he  investigates the cultures, economies and politics of digital interfaces and the role digital technologies play in transforming everyday life. He is the primary investigator on the ESRC funded project ‘Digital Interfaces and Debt: understanding mediated decision making processes in high cost short term credit products’ that runs between 2016-18.  His books include Phase Media: Space, Time and the Politics of Smart Objects (2017, Bloomsbury) and The Interface Envelope: Gaming, Technology, Power (2015, Bloomsbury).

In the first part (1 hr)  he will give a lecture on his conceptualization of the interfaces. After a break, we will convene for a 1.5 hrs practical session where we will use the analytical tools presented to work in groups on analyzing various familiar user interfaces of apps and websites. In the end, we will present the results of our analysis.

Assignment for participants

The students are expected to present the results of their short investigation as 5-minute concise presentations. Those will be graded according to their ability to incorporate the preparatory literature (5 points); the clarity and conciseness of the argument made (3 points); creativity (2 points) and presention (2 points). The group grade will be awarded as the workshop grade for those requiring the 1 EC for the completion of the seminar.


  • Ash, James, Ben Anderson, Rachel Gordon, and Paul Langley. 2018. “Digital Interface Design and Power: Friction, Threshold, Transition.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, April, 0263775818767426.
  • Ash, James. 2015. Chapter 1 & 2. The Interface Envelope: Gaming, Technology, Power. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.