The Zeuser Interface: How to Retake Control From Tech

We need new interfaces that enable us to control tech — not be controlled by it

Yancey Strickler
OneZero
Published in
4 min readDec 19, 2019

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Credit: John M Lund Photography Inc/Getty Images

TThe relationship between technology products and customers today can feel like one of predator and prey. Hooked on proto-monopolist hypergrowth dreams, tech businesses see user dependency as the ultimate success. This is why companies want to “capture” markets and build “moats” to achieve “user lock-in.” It’s how prison wardens define success, too.

This prison mindset has resulted in products that are intentionally addictive, obscure what a person is signing up for, and where, as a rule, every conceivable advantage is tilted toward the company. Tracking pixels, forced arbitration clauses, always-on surveillance, and other invasive practices that would have shocked us two decades ago are givens today.

This feels inevitable. Even permanent. But there are other possible paradigms for how people and technology can relate. We know because they’ve existed before.

Take the Clapper. The home improvement product from the 1970s had the simplest UI imaginable: two claps and something turns on, two claps and it turns off.

The Clapper uses an interaction model that clearly puts humans over tech. It allows a person to direct technology to do what they want — even theatrically and sarcastically, as the TV spot shows. With the Clapper, there’s no question who’s in control.

The Clapper is an example of what I’ll call a Zeuser Interface (ZI). It’s an interaction model where humans get the Zeus-like capabilities, rather than the technology. If the tech of today borrows from the interaction paradigm of HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey — where we think the machine is benevolently helping us until the moment we discover it really isn’t — interfaces like the Clapper are closer to Zeus standing on Mount Olympus sending lightning bolts to do his bidding.

The assumption that technology is an all-powerful host and humans are its subservient clients sleep-clicking through one terms of use after another needs to be challenged.

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Yancey Strickler
OneZero

Author of “This Could Be Our Future: A Manifesto for a More Generous World”; Cofounder of Kickstarter; Bentoist; http://www.ystrickler.com