Galloway stressed (2008: 947) that existing theories of the interface that only understood it as a palimpsest “can only ever reveal that the interface is a reprocessing of something that came before.” As he alludes, the interface is not simplya set of inscriptions written onto a static object, nor just a fossilized configuration of past practices brought together into a particular media form. Rather, the interface is better understood as a generative performance taking place in the present, a performance intersecting with elements outside its original remit: culture and capital, gender and history. In other words, an interface does not just register the conditions of its own production, but also actively reinscribes them back into the world in specific ways: reinforcing a relationship to the commodity, formalizing a feminine-technical understanding, supporting a particular sexual subjectivity. In connecting, bridging and mediating, the interface is simultaneously shaping. If the interface is a fertile nexus, it is one that is both lively and can affect our lives. Alexa poses an important and ongoing question about what forms that nexus should take.
Apple’s first constitutional claim is that the court order violates the company’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech. According to Apple, the order compels “speech” because complying would require the company to write software code (tweaks to the iOS operating system) that the company would rather not write.
This type of compelled speech argument stems from a seminal 1943 Supreme Court case about Jehovah’s Witnesses who objected to forced recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. As the court then explained, “No official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” The connection to the iPhone case may seem hazy, but courts have lately been treating corporations like religious objectors, even in the narrow context of stock market disclosure laws. An amicus brief from industry giants including Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft summarizes the compelled speech theory here: “The government seeks to force Apple and its engineers to write software — that is, to engage in protected speech — against their will.”