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Score for Performing User

Lauren Lee McCarthy





We have been cast as “users” by tech companies, rendered passive and reactive, expected to click “accept” on their terms of service that willfully disregard questions of privacy, ethics, and justice.

But the underestimation of the user is our opportunity to hack, exploit, and subvert this role. We can reject the false premise of a generic hypothetical user. The user has an identity. The user exists within a particular social and cultural context. The user exists.

We can ask: How do the technologies we use choreograph our actions, provoke us to perform, and open spaces for improvisation? What are the user gestures that define new paradigms for interacting with systems?

This is a score for performing user.

The Recipe

User instructions.

Collect a set of instructions, manuals, and/or guides for using various technologies. This might mean a setup guide for your Nest thermostat, steps for creating an account, an advice column about how to use social media, assembly instructions for Ikea furniture, etc.

How do you define the terms “technology” and “instructions”? What has informed your definitions?

User error.

Creatively reinterpret one or more of the instruction sets in a gesture that reveals something about yourself.

Who were these instructions created for? What assumptions about the user does the instruction set make?

Some ideas or starting points:

Ritual user.

Create a program that generates a ritual that you repeat at least once a day for one week. Using any type of recording mechanism, capture part(s) of yourself or your action during each repetition.

What effect do you hope this ritual will have? What other rituals do you have in your life, how did they form?


Creatively misuse an existing API in order to reveal something about the service.

What are the risks of misusing a technology? What are the risks of using the technologies you interact with daily?

User interface.

Create an HPI (human programming interface) that allows others to control some aspect of your life. Run it for one week on yourself.

What access are you opening up? What are the vulnerabilities of this system?

User extension.

Create an extension for someone else that extends their capabilities or experience in some way.

What limitations of experience does your extension assume?

User surveillance.

Hack or surveil someone for the purpose of improving your relationship.

How do you think about consent in this gesture? What kinds of surveillance do you live with daily? What kinds of surveillance does the other person live with daily?

Power user.

Create a system that amplifies some part of you (physical gesture, appearance, emotional state, intention, etc.), and document the use of it.

What effect does amplification have? How does this added power change your relationship to others?

User adapter.

Create a filter or adapter that improves your communication with someone.

How do you define “improved communication”?

User interaction.

Create a device that facilitates an interaction.

What unfulfilled desires for interaction do you have? How do the technologies and systems around you prevent or enable you to access these desires?

The interaction could be:

The device could be:


What is the context or background that inspired your recipe?

This score draws on ideas from Performing User, a course taught at NYU ITP and UCLA DMA, Social Hacking, a course taught in collaboration with Kyle McDonald at NYU ITP, and questions that emerged through the development of p5.js.

Which community are you offering the recipe to?

This score is offered to users of technology, especially those that do not find their values, identities, and needs represented and prioritized in the technologies they regularly encounter.

How does your submission relate to intersectional feminism?

This score provides a series of prompts to interrogate our interactions with technology, and engage our agency in deciding how to participate. It asks each performer to reflect on their own positionality within the technological and social systems they’re a part of.

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