Tom Sherman on Tue, 7 Mar 2000 17:16:55 +0100 (CET)

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I try to get my machines to process natural languages.

I talk to my machines and show them my body.  My mother tongue is English.  
My body is, well, my body.

The things I write or the images and sounds I put together are
less-natural than my voice and body by degrees.  The languages I construct
at arms length are secondary and artificial and they form and reform the
immediate environment I live and work in.  These secondary, artificial
languages extend my physical presence and shift or tilt the quality or
meaning of my voice and the way I appear--my appearance in language.

Sometimes I launch my artificial languages to gain range, to cut across
time, to establish territory, to integrate my thinking with the
environment in the broadest sense.  As I speak through a microphone into
my computer, my words appear on the screen.  I've spoken 'through text'
with others presumably still making their text with a keyboard.  We could
talk on the phone, but we prefer meet more concretely, somewhere else, at
a distance, in writing.  It's the distance we find so attractive.  The
intimate distance.  As readers we can zoom in for a breathtaking close-up,
or we can stay back, removed.  We can scan, or we can embody.  In pools
and rivers or in an ocean of text, we commingle at a distance, sometimes
intimately.  Textual commingling...
I always like to say that written language is the first digital language.  
I have trouble defending this argument, because alphanumeric text is more
complex and unruly than binary code, but it is also unnaturally concrete
and explicit, not unlike 1's and 0's, and as a code it can be reproduced
with absolute accuracy, repeatedly without distortion or degradation.  
This is why people always ask for things in writing (contracts, slanderous
rumours, resignations, love letters...), and this is why it is often so
embarrassing to have a written statement reappear after many years--things
people have written come back to haunt them in absolute alphanumeric
fidelity.  The written text was the first digital language...

[Someone asked me if I thought there was so much written text on the
internet and web because it was a digital language.  That's probably one
of the reasons, but it's more likely the case because of writing's amazing
functionally across channels of limited bandwidth.  We are at the
telegraph stage of network telecommunications.  When increased bandwidth
permits bodies to press up against both sides of the screen in real time,
wrapped in the surround-sound universe of breathing so intimate it must be
miked inside the lungs, then video will be the digital language of

I know this 'written language is digital' angle is vulnerable.  When the
characters of this text are printed or etched or beamed into the domain of
the visible, they become an analog image, a picture of the only nearly
digital alphanumeric code.  In other words, if a written text printed on
paper is photocopied multiple times it will eventually become distorted
and unreadable, proving that the image of written text is an analog form.  
And I can hardly read this text on my screen as I speak it because my
monitor is old and fuzzy and my reading glasses are filthy.  I'm simply
not a digital animal.  My written language is closer to being digital than
my body or voice will ever be.  It carries me into the digital world.

I write and make images and sounds because it helps me bridge the gap
between natural and artificial languages, between my body and everything
else.  When I was younger I didn't have such a problem with dislocation
and disintegration.  There wasn't such a clear separation between natural
and artificial languages, the analog and digital, my body and voice and
everything else.

A little boy knocked me out the other day.  He was four years old and very
bright and he wanted me to see how he could write his numbers.  He brought
me a few pieces of paper and a crayon and he put one hand palm down,
fingers spread out on the surface of the paper and preceded to trace his
index finger with the red crayon, saying "one."  Then he took another
piece of paper and traced the outline of two fingers and said "two."  He
traced the pictures of the numbers "three" and "four"...  He didn't look
up to see how impressed I was until he had traced the 'number' five, the
full digital complement of his whole tiny little hand.  His way of saying
written language is digital was better than mine.

Tom Sherman

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