Thursday, April 3, 2008

What's so great about this "Internet"?

Gitelman says “publishing a Web page or related digital object is publishing its markup, rarely viewed but always there,” making a huge assumption about the nature of “viewing.” If the qualification being made applies to human eyes than the statement may well be true, but computers, robots, crawlers, indexation sniffers, etc. process the code infinitely more than any web page will ever be “viewed” by any number of people. Computers may not process code for their own sake, but in a way they have become consumers of information, in that they relay and translate it.

When we “underscore the differences between pages and documents – that is, between issues of format and matters of concern,” we devalue format, and leave undefined “matters of concern.” I think that any new media artist would take issue with this, because often times the format is inseparable from content. Conceptually it makes sense that in terms of historicity, the textual consistencies are privileged over format – Wayback Machine doesn’t save all the images (whether out of choice or necessity.) A value judgment is being made: when I visit an older version of a web page a decision has been made to maintain the text (as well as markup) of the page, but many of the images are excluded. This reflects the attitude that the Web is primarily textual, but becomes a problem for several reasons connected to privacy (facebook presents your email address as an image, presumably so that web crawlers can’t spam you so easily,) style (if a web designer wants to use a font that most computer users don’t have and therefore can’t replicate textually, they make it an image,) etc.
The previously monumental emergence of the printing press and mass media that brought events together and put them on the same temporal line has in some ways been massively expanded by the ease of publication of the Web, but in others totally destroyed any sense of linearity at all, having shattered notions of historicity and static, definite, consultable records and instances of information.
Sometimes all of this begins to get pretty disgusting, because as alluded to by several texts in the course so far, access to all of this participatory, peer generated, free and equal information is heavily dependent on socioeconomic status, and therefore gets into a bunch of ugly issues that we seem to just ignore or assume to be negligible or are being addressed by other people. I think interesting things have been done to counteract this fact – for example, donations made to Native American reservations, HP’s Digital Village Program, those super cheap crank-powered laptops, etc., but all of these seem to be a sort of technological crusade/mission field/the rich white man imposing “objectively good” progress on the rest of the people. Maybe they’re right… I don’t know.

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