Thursday, February 14, 2008

Seeing is believing

In Manovich’s The Language of New Media the first principle of “new media” or what we know as digital media is numerical representation. At its core all objects, all software, even the interface can be represented by numerical data. This is a direct result of the mode of communication man has developed with the computer: code. Unlike other systems of communication, Hayles points out that it does not function like language. At the simplest level, the alternating voltages result in binary code, for which “the system can tolerate little if any ambiguity.” Halyes also points out there is nearly no way to therefore talk about signifiers without the signified. Unlike language, in code the relationship of the signifier to signified is non-arbitrary.
And yet as concrete as code is, our daily interaction with computing machines constantly hides this most basic fact. For the most part, users do not see code, and I believe there is a direct desire not to see the code. To see the code is visceral, it shatters the illusion that the machine is a world that the user can control. Also, because code is concrete, it hinders the greater ideological principles of personal computing, interactivity and freedom. To counteract, this man developed the interface, specifically personal computers today can be traced back to the Mac GUI of 1984. I think that it is was a bizarre development, because eventually, as Soren Pold makes clear, the interface goes beyond its engineering roots. It stops making the machine simply invisible and creates a higher forged reality and level of perception. Strangely enough, as graphics and screens develop, the GUI increases its illusionary qualities causing us to head into what Pold calls “an increasingly invisible reality.”
Even the media we interact with on a computer, which in itself is simply code, is not really what it seems and as seen in the other articles what we call “art” in the digital age is somewhat misleading. This is because in the age of the “interface culture” (Pold) everything is “camouflaged” (Cramer/Gabriel) by the graphical representation we see. While seeing is believing in the “interface culture,” what we may believe is not entirely real, because as Cramer and Gabriel point out “the algorithms employed to generate and manipulate computer music, computer graphics, digital text are frequently if not in most cases invisible, unknown to the audience and the artist alike.” In the age of the “interface culture,” one does not only have to call to question the ideology of the text, but the code, which forges it. Another aspect is what does this mean for ideology? As more and more all forms of culture and past media are digitized, forged into a numerical representation will our underlying cultural principles adhere? While Manovich seems to believe that film is the precursor to the digital, I find this hard to take. Despite that in both, one appears to see the medium, and that both hold some temporal aspect, the computer is not safe to accept at face value. I feel that the computer as a media machine is something beyond all prior forms of mass media, something that must be scrutinized to show exactly what is at work.

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