Léa Perraudin

Léa Perraudin: Capturing the Ephemeral. Experimental Interfaces and Snapchat as Messy Modes of Interaction in the Technosphere.


Built on the general observation that computing increasingly takes place beyond the desktop (Weiser 1991), humanity is co-creating the environmental condition of the Technosphere, being permanently surrounded by technological infrastructures (Haff 2014). Against the backdrop of these recent developments we are confronted with the necessity to reframe the notion of mediality itself.

By analyzing modes of interaction to be exemplary for both macro scale dynamics in new media as well as micro scale investigations in the domain of experimental interface design, the paper serves as a proposal to re-evaluate media phenomena in the 21st century in terms of a techno-ecological paradigm shift in Media Theory (e.g. Hörl 2011 and in reference to Guattari 1989, Simondon 1958). This draws attention to code and data flows as invisible yet potent objects of research and their relation to ephemerality in both market oriented media formats such as mobile media App Snapchat as well as experimental approaches in interface design.

The theoretical premise to describe contemporary media through their mediating characteristics, referring to the Aristotelian metaxy (Aristotle 1984) as an in-between (Dazwischen) is stretched to its limits under current media-technological conditions. Thus, mediality is not only subject to an interactive matrix that represents the assumption of separate entities engaging with each other since the pervasive characteristics of media saturated environments have to be particularly taken into account. This allows for alternative modes of interaction to analyze emerging theoretical concerns in Media Studies by addressing the concept of the Technosphere. Hence, the localization of a given exterior domain for technology is no longer defined by the distinction of artifact and outer world but the environment resp. the material surroundings themselves become the habitat of technology (Hansen 2014, Parikka 2015). As a consequence, media phenomena of the 21st century need to be analyzed by taking a critical stance towards their transformative forces. Several positions in natural sciences and humanities alike claim that in order to dissect transformation, the concept of the Technosphere provides for productive outcome: Established dichotomies such as nature/culture, subject/object and inside/outside increasingly fail to diagnose what it means to live in the current condition. In this sense, the relation between the technological apparatus and its user has to be taken into account beyond the epistemic tradition of modernity that operates within the framework of hierarchical binary logic.

Recent developments in interface design make sense of the emerging Technosphere and provide fertile ground to analyze nature references drawn to the aesthetics of new technologies. This applies to interfaces where e.g. soap bubbles become ephemeral control features (Soap Bubble Interface; Döring/Schmidt/Sylvester 2010), or a cloud as temporarily aggregated state serves as the foundation for a diaphanous image repertoire (Inside the Tropospheric Laboratory; Meyer-Brandis 2011) as well as set ups that allow for playing Tetris while digging in the mud, thereby giving an ephemeral shape to the tangible quality of interaction (Mud Tub; Tom Gerhardt 2009).

Crucial to both Snapchat and ephemeral interfaces is that they shed light upon the blurred boundaries of calculation/speculation, ephemerality/persistence and order/messiness at nearly every instance of our 21st century lives. The discursive horizon of the Technosphere serves for an impulse how to collide traditional modes of expression. By engaging in these processes through the exposition of the incalculable, several playful practices in the given examples serve for a reflexive stance to enter the conversation about media that is accompanied by a destabilization of common grounds. Since calculation can be perceived as modus operandi of technological infrastructures, the temporal manifestations of data flow provide for a speculative inquiry in media phenomena. Snapchat as a speculative (moving) image ecology of content that appears to be non-searchable and truly ephemeral reveals an uncanny and messy backside: The instant encounters and expressions within Snapchat are subject to archiving elsewhere (e.g. screenshots, hidden directories on the device itself). In this sense, the digital materiality of Snapchat’s content gets soaked into the world while it dissolves. The illusion embodied in this constellation in turn allows to focus on the relationality of all encounters between user, medium, technological infrastructure and environment, thereby addressing the Technosphere.

Snapchat as a media phenomenon takes the transgressed notion of the archive, storytelling, as well as the multiple disseminations of social media practices, selfie culture and curating identities into account. However, my proposal focuses on the aesthetic dynamic of the technological setup itself. By re-evaluating mediality in terms of temporal (ephmereality vs. persistentce) spatial (order/messiness) and operating (calculation vs. speculation) modes, I will discuss the following epistemological constraints:

  • How do macro scale media phenomena such as Snapchat as well as experimental approaches in interface design interfere with our understanding of the habits and habitats of the Technosphere?
  • Which consequences for the notion of media materiality arise from the assumption that the manifestations within a (moving) image ecology are subject to specific forms of emergence and disappearance?
  • How do we grasp the (un-)intentional blank spaces caused by an environment of pervasive media practices where content and experience, myth and mess (Bell/Dourish 2014) as well as device and world are in a state of limbo?

The paper seeks to address these questions in order to contribute to a media theoretical framework of the Technosphere in three accounts:

  • By elaborating an terminology for media phenomena in their transformation
  • By acknowledging the discursive condition of the Technosphere as a central point of reference for Media Studies. Since the Technosphere as a concept is accompanied by the challenge to make sense of large scale transformations, our understanding of disciplinary boundaries and academic modes of expression has to be shifted.
  • By analyzing (moving) image ecologies in terms of their temporality, spatiality and operation as both a mode of understanding and of experiencing the world that stimulates new approaches to media in general.



Léa Perraudin: She is research assistant at the Center for Media Studies and Research on Modernity, University of Cologne, collegiate at the a.r.t.e.s Graduate School for the Humanities Cologne, and lecturer at the Münster School of Design. Her PhD project is called “Mediality in the Anthropocene. Agency and playfulness of the Technosphere”.

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