Separating noise from signal

The ethnomethodological uncanny as aesthetic pleasure in human‐machine interaction in the United States

by EITAN WILF

Read Article

Because ethnomethodology was founded in cybernetics, it institutionalized the idea that interactants strive to maintain interactional order and compensate for disorder through negative feedback mechanisms such as “repair work.” This idea informed a key strand in the study of human‐machine interaction in the United States, especially the idea that humans are inclined to repair the gaps in machines’ behavior and thus sustain the feeling that they are interacting with intentional entities. In some situations, however, humans prefer to expose and even exacerbate machines’ interactional incompetence. Such a preference manifests the aesthetic category of the uncanny, here theorized as the sudden awareness of the material foundations of one's immediate world, an awareness that emerges when those foundations become “noisy” and begin to reflexively point to themselves.