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Mud Interface
To the ever growing list of computer interfaces now infesting our bodies like viral prosthetic limbs, you can add another, one that's far less arthritic than a keyboard, less prosaic than a tablet/stylus combo, and while without that technolicious sheen of a multi-touch screen is nevertheless as immersive and unconventional as one can get.

And that's mud.

Mud Tub


Writes Thomas Gerhardt:

By sloshing, squishing, pulling, punching, etc, in a tub of mud (yes, wet dirt), users control games, simulators, and expressive tools; interacting with a computer in a new, completely organic, way. Born out of a motivation to close the gap between our bodies and the digital world, the Mud Tub frees the traditional computer interaction model of it’s rigidity, allowing humans to use their highly developed sense of touch, and creative thinking skills in a more natural way.


Gerhardt further describes how this interface might work.

Where the Mud Tub differs from [other experimental interfaces] is its use of a richly textured organic substance that takes advantage of human ingenuity and complex sensory ability; pioneering a new open-ended interaction typology where prescriptive goals are centered around states, rather than specific user manipulation. I.e., instead of having a user click a mouse button with their pointer finger, or gesture with two fingers in a specific way, he or she is simply asked to create a state in the Mud Tub surface, which can be accomplished in any manner of ways, including digging, molding, pressing, piling, etc. This creates a “buffer” between physical user action and digital result that allows for user improvisation and makes the system inherently adaptable.


So can we soon tweet by playing in the mud? Our tweets will just be gibberish, meaning there won't be much difference from the norm.

When might we expect to be able to go to our neighborhood park, find a patch of wet or merely damp earth, plug in our iPad and update our blog, all the while using the soil for power?

Can we use our (muddy) backyard garden to create a digital 3D model of our next landscape project?

Mud Tub


We're reminded here of David Gissen's chapter on mud in his marvelous book Subnature. Mud, he writes, is “a type of unstable ground that must be overcome in the construction of foundations. In the development of modern cities, rather than discussing mud as something wanted or desirable, it was identified as the product of poor drainage and ineffective engineering.” It “signifies a type of failed engineering” and “operates against modern concepts of circulation; it slows the city down like slush.”

[T]he development of ideas about mud is intimately related to the rise of modern economies, industrialization, urbanization, and the birth of the modern state. Mud has run counter to virtually all of these formations. When economic prospects went bad, in a sense, they turned into mud (or dust); urban routes were slowed, and mud infiltrated all manner of economic enterprises, from farms to mines.


It's interesting, then, that Gerhardt is using mud to facilitate communication, enable commerce and bridge distances. By lessening the disconnect between our physical bodies and our network identities, this mud liberates rather than bog us down. Rather than neutralize the city, mud is seen as engendering community, virtual or otherwise.
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