The Debt of the Notion of Interface and its Conceptual Promises

Konstanty Szydlowski

The concept of interface has been gradually introduced and accompanied with different fashionable appeals for the new philosophy: software philosophy, digital philosophy, philosophy of communication, to name only a few of them. Is there in this technical term an explanation, a key to a genuine understanding of the reality that we cannot grasp anymore with traditional terms? Still the “interface” provokes more questions than answers as a conceptual challenge. Based on a short history of the concept and a series of comparisons with terms like a “tool”, “access”, “media”, “translation” we can measure the limits and the conceptual efficiency of the “interface” and find out its debt, if not dependency on those well established models of technically determined interaction with machines and other people. Looking back at the Kantian idea of distinction between the natural and the artificial, as well as a Heideggerian approach and the difference between the piece of art and the tool we might deal with some structural similarities with the concept of interface, which is often intended as a supposedly new discovery of communication networks or a system of control. The philosophical luggage of the debate on change and cause concepts on the other hand makes itself uneasy again. This allows us to put once more in doubt the legitimacy of interface and its metaphors as a contribution to the need of a new quality of conceptual thinking.


Konstanty Szydlowski studied philosophy and french philology in Warsaw, Freiburg and Berlin. He works as an art critic, curator and translator and is currently pursuing his Ph.D. at the Berlin University of Arts.