A skeumorph is "a derivative object that retains ornamental design cues to a structure that was necessary in the original." Dan O'Hara, lecturer in English and American Literature at the University of Cologne, and editor of the forthcoming book Extreme Metaphors: Selected Interviews with J. G. Ballard, 1967–2008, (co-edited with Simon Sellars, London: Fourth Estate, 2012), studies skeumorphism. Transcript from a Knowledge Centre livechat conversation with Dr. O'Hara:
How does skeumorphism relate to the ideas of post- and trans-humanism? Do you think our bodies will once become skeumorphs?
Certainly Stelarc does! And Orlan, the French performance artist who has plastic surgery under local anaesthetic, suggests that we're already skeuomorphic.
Is the human appendix a skeuomorph?
Already so many parts of our bodies aren't biologically necessary. Yes. Though the appendix isn't ornamental... But hair, nails, pierced nipples, all get used to express a style. In the same way as, in evolution, we have exaption: the repurposing of an obsolete function.
Dan, would you mind telling us how your work with JG Ballard intersects with that of skeuomorphs?
Sure. I see Ballard as the key author, philosopher even, of the age of technology. He's always managed to live five minutes into everyone else's futures, and has focused on the way our natural world has increasingly become a technologized domain we don't fully understand. So skeuomorphs, as a kind of 'memory' capacity of artefacts, can show us the processes that guide the evolution of the forms of technology. And I feel that Ballard affirms the moral necessity of this kind of understanding.
Does that suggest to you that we are already skeuomorphs? All, mind and body?
No, we're not. There are many linguistic skeuomorphs: take for example on line 'newspapers'. Which is more ...