Thursday, February 7, 2008

File Structure as the creation of Heterotopia

Bush’s article got me thinking about the status of our current file structures and how we interface with computer files. The fundamental metaphor of the contemporary file system is a home office of sorts. We have the manila file folder, in which documents are stored. We have a desktop that holds these files and folders (in many ways analogous to the desktop upon which Bush’s Memex is interfaced). Discarded files, like discarded pieces of paper, are placed in a “trash can.”

Even as our posts here seem to criticize the simplicity of Bush’s Memex as naive and archaically analog, his desktop system forms the basis of the metaphor that allows us to interface with our hardware. The fundamental structuring of the internet reflects this problem of representation. The fact that websites would be referred to as pages points to an ensuing dichotomy. We view the internet through browsers, analogous to the way one would browse through material pages in a library or bookstore. And those webpages we look at are often created in programs called publishers (Dreamweaver, PageMill, etc).

In this way we can see how the digital becomes a constructed mirror and metaphor of the physical. Code is not inherently a heterotopia. Code works in ones and zeros and lines and processes and packets and sectors, not documents and pages and waste baskets. As Nelson emphasizes repeatedly, our digital file structures need not be restrained by being organized in a manner identical to the way we organize physical data. But in using those items that our familiar to us (home office, page, file) as the basis of representation we are essentially creating a mirrored but altered version of our own reality.

No comments: