From: Davin Heckman <>
To: soft_skinned_space <>
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] Digitality, Authenticity, Decay, Memory
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I can think of many differences between digital objects and the sorts
of things we can carry in our hands, but one that matters to me quite
a bit is how is the object “handled” and in what way does this
handling situate it within a world.  There’s a way in which an icon
within an an interface or authoring environment or gamespace or
whatever?. here, the object corresponds signifies some relational
understanding that we carry with us from our daily lives.  (I will set
this thing down here, it will be there later when I go to pick it up.
When I pick it up, I will do this with it. Etc.).

Then there are symbolic things that we use in written worlds.  I am
telling a story, I am going to place a thing here, so the reader knows
that the thing is there and when they read this, they will provide the
relative understanding needed to make sense of the story.  This kind
of remembering of a coded thing elicits from us some memory of lived
experience with things that are sufficient for us to conjure up the
coded representation of experience (or not, in which case, we do not
understand.  but, often, can figure it out even with really messed up
writing: “There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is
Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova
Milkbar making up rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark
chill winter bastard though dry.”).

But with code written for a computer, the objects are “handled” in a
different way, not by a person and a bodily resonance, but by a
machine that is going to “act” on it.  There is an implied milieu that
they inhabit, with layers of context that make the objects work in
relation to other ideas.  Something left in one place is not a
singular thing, but a representative of an ideal form that is
circumscribed by the logic of the milieu.  Instead of “my coffee mug”
sitting on this desk right here where I can knock it onto my keyboard
(which actually just happened), there is a coffee mug spilling coffee
on a keyboard.  Any singularity it represents is an expression of the
totality of the world which is contained within the memory of the
machine?.  but any singularity I experience with regards to a story I
read does not contain the whole world.  I am probably not thinking
clearly about this.  But I do wonder about the difference between how
we “hold” things in our memory, how we “act” on these concepts, how
these concepts are “connected” to the world that they inhabit.

This article is also a good thing to consider when we think about the
relationship between memories and bodies: Anna Gibbs and Maria Angel,
“At the time of writing.” Electronic Book Review.


On Thu, Oct 30, 2014 at 10:47 PM, Mark Marino <> wrote:
> ———-empyre- soft-skinned space———————-
> I’m going to return this line of inquiry to computer source code, since that’s an aspect of certain digital objects that I feel fairly confident in separating from analogue ones (thinking of Christian’s struggle to define the “‘ontological’ and ‘practical’ differences between the sorts of objects – digital/analogue”).  Perhaps there are examples of analog objects that are programmed, but I’m going to bracket them for now.
> As we pursue the ontological distinctions between digital and analogue objects and their relation to memory, how does computer source code distinguish software in relation to memory?
> In the sense of code, some of the implications are obvious.  Comments in code remind us of what someone (possibly ourselves) was trying to do or had done.  Variable and function names can also serve as memory cues.  The architecture of a program can be thought of as a remnant of they way we conceived of a certain process, a material manifestation.  But what of the source code in general?
> But take this Sketchpad Demo by Ivan Sutherland
> I’ve been told that Alan Kay considers this to be one of the most important moments in computer history.  In the video Sutherland is seen working a device lined with switches with one hand and drawing geometric shapes with a kind of stylus on the screen with the other. With a few gestures (that seem to cover a magician’s level of familiarity with the interface), Sutherland is able to create a vector-based image of a movable object subject to a physics that can interoperate with other objects.
> Sutherland is, I am told, programming (which destabilizes a distinction we might have between drawing and programming or using an interface and programming).  However, what’s the one thing his programming does not leave (as far as the demo indicates)?  A trace of the creation process.  This is the obstacle to using such a language or environment for programming.  There is an expectation that interacting with software objects requires this trace.  That does not mean it is not a programming language, haptic and visual though it may be, it just means it doesn’t meet contemporary expectations of programming languages.  It seems more like what we’d consider an authoring environment, like Flash.
> And so for our discussion of digital objects, particularly software objects, this example (and its responses) demonstrates the degree to which the code and the program (and this accessible, discrete memory of the process) are seen as fundamental requirements of software.  The ability to leave a trace that can be altered, revised.
> Now where do we see that in our conceptualization of memory?    How does code become iconic of the modern prosthesis outside ourselves to which a number of you have referred? It certainly seems to hold to Sean’s sense of memory in the digital relying on the “shifting frequency of future iterations.”  For some reason I am put in mind of “auto-save” and again versioning and histories — yet I think these are probably too facile analogies to the notion of a recorded procedure. I guess my large question is: how does this sense of or expectation for a source code trace affect broader cultural and personal psychological concepts of memory?
> Best,
> Mark