From Cher’s wardrobe to Stanley Kubrick’s early ‘iPads’, fulfil your screen-on-screen fantasies with these dream user interfaces
“So badass you can’t believe it” – that’s Rony Abovitz, talking about the future of the interface. His stealth start-up Magic Leap announced this week that they’ve raised a whopping $542 million from recruits such as Google – all in the name of building the next-gen computing platform, a mind-melding combination of virtual and augmented reality that aims to replicate the visual perception of the brain. You’d be forgiven for thinking his comments are straight outta Hollywood: to represent believable computer-human interaction on other visual media – such as film – has always been an impossible ask. What’s duller than watching a realistic coding session from start to drawn-out finish?
The solution is to make it up: it’s much easier to make computer use exciting when the depicted GUI (graphical user interface) bears very little resemblance to Windows or Mac. And fantasy user interfaces (FUIs, if you will) are totally in demand: they amount to an entire subsector of the graphic design industry, after all. As the humble desktop today edges closer to our bodies and further from real world referents, the time seems apt to pay tribute to the screens that have occupied our screens. From films to TV, and even within contemporary art and the printed page, there exists a roster of tropes and tricks ready to fulfil your screen-on-screen fantasies. So, before the terrifying fantasy future of tech catches up with us, here’s ten of the best FUIs you’ll never actually log on to.
THE COMPUTER WARDROBE – CLUELESS (1995)
90s cult flick Clueless (1995) spawned certain must-have accessories that 90s kids will never wish to let go of – we’re looking at you, Amy Dunne, and that unmistakeably Cher-inspired pink fluffy pen. But it’s the computerised wardrobe in the opening scene that is forever etched within the brains of future Pinterest users. Computer geeks may have said “As if!” to the digi-wardrobe at the time, but the ‘virtual wardrobe’ is getting ever closer to becoming a reality – London based tech company Metail launched an app inspired by the film earlier this year.
FBI WORMHOLE OR PIZZA? – THE NET (1995)
Ah, The Net. How your computer conspiracy-thetics were not of your time, or even our own. As Roger Ebert so succinctly captured it with his review at the time, “The computer stuff will interest anyone into such things.” Starring Sandra Bullock as a reclusive computer professional, The Net (1995) projects a Hitchcockian thriller onto contemporary fears of the power of the (then) alien PC. FBI conspiracies aside, the GUIs of the protagonist’s dual screens are ultra-distinctive: chat rooms, government files and, best of all, ordering pizza via modem.
HACKS-THETICS – HACKERS (1995)
HACK THE PLANET! Only this 1995 cult film about high school hackers being framed by an evil genius could produce delights like watching a crop-haired Angelina Jolie get it on with Jonny Lee Miller, the latter wearing a red latex dress (Jolie: “I hope you don’t screw like you type”). If that’s not enough to whet your appetite, the hyperactive FUIs might – with floppy disks flying and coding coded at lightning speed, the aesthetics of the viruses unleashed encompass a buff Leonardo Da Vinci, acid-rave smiley faces and er, the Cookie Monster.
UNLIKELY INSTANT MESSAGING – PRETTY IN PINK (1986)
In the 80s, the desktop wasn’t as familiar in popular culture as wholly textual command-line interface. Taking things to the next level, though, is Molly Ringwald’s crush’s Instant Messaging trick on the school computers in Pretty in Pink (1986). Anticipating the way we conduct relationships online today, this is basically the earliest historical example of a ‘Poke’.
THE TELEPUTER – INFINITE JEST
In Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace builds plot strands around a generation’s difficulties in communicating, even whilst communication itself has ostensibly taken over – corporate sponsors loom large over individual action, and the “teleputer” hovers in the background of events. A combination television, VCR, computer and videophone, the “cartridge-capable” TP is described as having “screens so high-def you might as well be there.”
EMILIO GOMARIZ'S 'MACINTOSH LAB'
The GUI, with which any self-respecting digital artist must interact, has become a material for appropriation and manipulation in contemporary art practice. As Jason Huff writes on Rhizome in 2012, the GUI’s aesthetic necessarily ‘leaches its way into our own.’ One artist notably working within Interface Aesthetics is Emilio Gomariz, whose series of works entitled Macintosh/Lab incorporate the processes of everyday interface interaction: creating hypnotic animated compositions using only the features, tools and operating systems provided by Mac.
THE EARLIEST iPAD – 2001: A SPACE ODDITY (1968)
As Apple unveil the iPad Air 2 just this week, some would argue that its first iteration happened all the way back in 1968. In Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), one scene depicts astronauts eating whilst watching a TV show on flat, personal, computers – cue one YouTube user pointing out their resemblance to our present-day iPads. In 2011, when Samsung was brought to suit by Apple for patent infringement of their tablet computer designs, part of Samsung’s defence case used the clip as evidence of ‘prior art.’ The judge, needless to say, ruled it out.
EPICAC - KURT VONNEGUT 1950s COMPUTER
Inspired by the world’s first general-purpose computer – 1946’s “Giant Brain”, ENIAC – Kurt Vonnegut’s fictional EPICAC computer first featured in his 1950 short story of the same name. A sci-fi fable that problematised real world happenings, the narrator tells of a supercomputer that ceases to exist because it becomes more human than its designers intended. It would appear again in Vonnegut’s first novel, and dystopia of all-out automation, Player Piano.
THE FIRST 3-D PRINTED WOMAN - WEIRD SCIENCE (1985)
The second John Hughes film on our list, this farcical sci-fi isn’t exactly considered a classic in the same league as the rest of his teen movie roster. But lets not underappreciate the stonking FUI that it stars: based on a Memotech MTX512, the nerd protagonists use it to create the perfect woman. Such a task requires a mammoth computing capacity, so first they hack into a government mainframe for more processing power. Throw in a Barbie doll connected by electrodes and a freak lightning accident, and you’ve got one advanced GUI – oh, and an aerobicizing Kelly LeBrock.
Microsoft surprised everyone this month when it announced that, following from the (some would say) cursed Windows 8 operating system, there would simply be no Windows 9. Is it because 7 8 9? (thanks, Twitter jokers). One Redditer has speculated that the company have skipped straight to 10 because, confusingly, app developers already code using a ‘Windows 9’ shortcut – used to determine Windows 95/98. Proof that the 90s trend really will never die…