Screenshot 2020 07 27 at 12 35 03
Screenshot by Rebecca Gill

There is not enough space on my desktop to save anything else. Each thought is hashed out, half-formed and sequestered into folders, deposits of data that collect under the keyboard as folds of code. Distinctly fluid things that cause me to think my workspace is neat.

Desktop, from the modern Latin desca, denoting a table to write on, is a diluted incarnation of the older Latin discus, meaning dish. This etymology offers a pleasantly tenuous route into the idea of containers, alongside an intimacy that comes with moments of nourishment. Operating somewhere between private and public space, individual and collective experience, ‘a table to write on’ offers form and function. Indeed, the desktop and the table, are places where writing happens [1]: a physical crutch for the slipperiness that comes with the surface project of finding words.

I have sought refuge here, more so in the past few months than before the pandemic took hold. In the shadow of this viral spectre, I find myself leaning on my desktop now in more than just a slumped working posture. I rely on this desktop for communication and closeness, solidifying the etymological links to nourishment and intimacy.


The desktop directs my attention to the socio-political power dynamics implicated in the delineation of public space. A private building, the Medici Palace in Florence was adorned with low stone benches, affording the passing public a place to rest. [2]

Historically, spaces for public spectacles might have had seating plans; a social architecture largely following the rule of putting ‘like with like’. [3] I think about the benches of the Roman arena, its shape incubating the totality of attention there, producing the spectacle within.

I glance at Doreen Mende’s writing on the touch of the technological gaze, the intimacy of digital attention has the power to make and destroy worlds via mediations of intention through suggested navigation. Mende’s observation of a monopoly on digital space extends ‘navigational imperialism’, reaffirming uneven access in the domain of global and social media, which are increasingly ever present in this age of distanced relations. [4]

The corporate practices of hot-desking and outsourcing computational space, to data centres for rent, aims to conserve space for the sake of cost in labour economies—nefariously streamlining user experience in the interest of making work invisible—machine or otherwise.


Technologies of representation such as the internet iteratively restructure the field of the digital through echo chambers, feedback loops and gestures of return in their algorithmic frameworks. These diminish the possibility for deviation, for ‘desire lines’ [5] and chaotic encounters with the Other. Perspectives we form about the world are amplified and announced back to us. Intent becomes important in the implications of this; a programme cannot necessarily discern how I feel about what is presented to me, but it can try. Assimilation is not assured. While our dependencies on the immediacy of media platforms grow, the spaces that we occupy whilst ‘there’ fold us further into the coded arena architecture of ‘like with like’.

If, following Sara Ahmed’s writing on ‘Queer Phenomenology’, the direction of attention is based on ‘orientation’ and the navigation of space, then perspective is derived from directions taken past and present. However, digital space is not necessarily free, and territorialised and spatial occupation affects the ‘world making devices’ of perspective, attention and knowledge. [6] It matters how our technologies carry us to these arrivals: meaning is mediated by the framework through which information is accessed. Hardware and software—as well as the practices of use that develop around media technologies—structure this development.

In user experience, this perspective derived from directions taken equates to gestures of touch on homogenised interfaces and is often reduced to the opportunity to interrupt the flow of control in the execution of code. Much like the affective power of physical touch, hardware interfaces and our interactions with them carry a generative power, filtered through the binary logics of computation. While the importance of who is writing this code cannot be understated, neither can the position of us, at our desktops—the place where writing happens—in how we rewrite this code through our interaction with it.

The intimacy of touch may offer an alternative methodology for orienting ourselves not through spatial navigation but through the navigation of relation. Can we recalibrate these virtual echo chambers in light of the pandemic’s fallout? Touch promises a proximity to each other that cannot be delivered yet, but touch is also ‘about ‘being in touch’, and now about ‘sensory attunement’ beyond the haptic. [7]

One step towards the kind of social relations that may better equip us for an increased dependence on online space relies on the decentralisation of our networks, away from the guided and influenced towards a more autonomous form of social organisation.

In the meeting of these two desktops, space-physical with space-virtual, exchanges of labour and the intimate move through the corporate, the flow of control is folded into algorithmic logics and user illusions where entire worlds hang in the balance. Looking through this glass screen I am trying to define the edges of this problem, understanding whether emancipation from an inward-turning arrest of collective attention lies in domain, distribution or distance. This view troubles my eyes, and exhausts me.


[1] Ahmed, Sara, ‘Find Your Way’, in Queer Phenomenology, Duke University Press, 2006, p.3

[2] Elet, Yvonne, ‘Seats of Power: Outdoor Benches in Early Modern Florence’ in Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 61, No. 4, 2002, pp.444 - 469,

[3] Fagan, Garrett G.,The Lure of the Arena: Social Psychology and the Crowd at the Roman Games, Cambridge University Press, 2011, pp.80-120

[4] Mende, Doreen, ‘The Code of Touch: Navigating Beyond Control, or, Towards Scalability and Sociability’, in e-flux Journal 109, May 2020,

[5] Ahmed, Sara, ‘Find Your Way’, p.19

[6] Mende, Doreen, ‘The Code of Touch: Navigating Beyond Control, or, Towards Scalability and Sociability’

[7] Barad, Karen, ‘On Touching — The Inhuman That Therefore I Am’, in d i f f e r a n c e s: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, Volume 23, Number 5, Brown University, 2012


Rebecca is based in Glasgow. Her research interests include (re)distributions of power in network politics, game theory and technologies, and the possibility for accessing/organising in digital space through these. She is currently participating in a research group called ‘Intelligence De-biased’ with Exposed Arts, London.