The virtual text is watching you: Facing the virtual face interface.


This paper considers the text as a missing face. The analysis begins with Socrates' complaint that writing is inferior to speech because it cannot see and adapt its message to the reader. It explores the post-Renaissance obsession with face reading and the modern obsession with rewriting the human face. The essay ends with electronic text. Businesses now track readers, building individual profiles that are used to assemble personalized pages. Socrates' objection that writing is unable to perceive the reader no longer holds: the virtual text is watching you. And it is watching you with virtual eyes. There is a growing interest in face interfaces that are capable of perceiving and talking. Not only are these virtual faces learning to read the user's face, but they are also learning to write their own faces--to map rhetorical forms to the character of their interlocutors in ways Socrates could not have imagined.