on Thu, 11 Jun 1998 14:55:01 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Re: What is Digital Studies? [barnet, cultimo]

date: Fri, 12 Jun 1998 18:30:14 +1030
from: belinda barnet <>

Firstly, I'd like to say that this article is brilliant: our explorations
of the digital medium certainly need to be more informed by an
understanding of the technology at its heart, and this is sadly lacking
thus far. However, I find it difficult to swallow the idea that we should
reject old metaphors and theoretical tools outright in favour of exploring
object/protocol relations.

Digital technologies have emerged at the intersection of the most complex
and heterogeneous enunciative components. For a start, the technical
relationship to space-time which produces object/protocol relations as
"precoded pathways" in digital media is the _same_ geometrical episteme
which produced (and participates in) Newton's laws, classical stasis theory
and the very dualistic  grammar which you claim digital studies rejects.
The visual and behavioural grammar of the Internet and hypertext is one of
determined response and control: the very notion of pre-programmed
trajectories and located, time-reversible hyperlinks is invested in a
relationship to space-time that is regulated, causal and not contingent.
This worldview been criticised by cultural theorists and the (print-based)
literary avant-garde for many years now: it may not have been informed by a
knowledge of information technologies, but it certainly has a lot to offer
the debate.

We simply can't claim that digital technologies involve an entirely new
relationship to space-time, theory or the object-subject binarism (at
least, I can't see that it is significantly different from the universes we
have inherited). This supposedly "new" relationship to objects and
space-time has a heritage, and this heritage is not just located in the
technology itself. To understand the digital medium as a technological
machine, we must understand that there is no generalised "digital" syntax
which might explain it. The technology is located in universes of
virtuality which exceed its immediate form. What escapes the technology?
What is it doing to us? Where can it go? What are we emerging as across the
interface? These questions won't be answered by divorcing it from its
theoretical and archeological components.
ph@neth@net.on..eist.o  <>  @

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date: Thu, 11 Jun 98 10:40:38 -0000
from: Cultimo <>

Soem remarks and notes from my side. They're not real comments and maybe 
they do not make much sense. I just read and thought aloud. 

>Subject:     <nettime> What is Digital Studies? 
>Sent:        10-6-98 19:19
>Received:    11-6-98 8:53
>From:        alex galloway,
>What is Digital Studies?
>By Alex Galloway
>For my purposes, digital studies is,
>like political economy before it, at once a new theoretical paradigm and a
>position-taking within that paradigm.

> Digital studies rejects the opposition between mind and body. 

Maybe a phenomelogical aproach is usefull here: What is the meaning of 
the act of connecting to the internet and correspond with people you do 
not see. What is the meaning of the relation with a network loaded with a 
flow of information. A Bachelard like treating of the subject ('The 
Psychoanalysis of fire' 'The poetics of space').

Somehow I always feel a semiotical approach is not really usefull in 
describing a field that lies on the border betwee psychologie and 
epistemology. One needs a theory that can describe a human mind and it's 
object as one: In phenomenology both come together in an act of giving 

Maybe semiotics is introduced because people working in the border fiiled 
of language and literature / culture studies needed an 'real scientific' 
positivistic approach. But it is all about meaning, and not about facts. 
It is another domain all together (see the neo marxist sociological 
debate about the two forms of logic: cause efect logic and the logic of 

Lets go back to the 19e century when science and literature where one in 
(what we in Dutch call) 'De schone letteren', that is 'The beautifull 
writing': A discourse and it s meaning are one, regardless of theory you 
got from other sources.


>+ + +
>"First commodity, then sign, now object..."


>The net does not rely on
>the text as its primary metaphor; it is not based on value exchange; its
>terms are not produced in a differential relationship to some sort of
>universal equivalent. Digital technology necessitates a different set of
>object relations. What are these relations?
> Platform independent, digital objects are contingent upon the 
standardization of
>data formats. They exist at the level of the script, not the machine.
>Unlike the commodity and the sign, the object is radically independent from
>context. Objects are inheritable, extendible, pro-creative. They are always
>already children. Objects are not archived, they are autosaved. Objects are
>not read, they are scanned, parsed, concatenated and split.

Two remarks: platform independent is not really the case in cyberspace. 
In fact I think a major development is halted because the fight on a 
commercial level between Micr$oft and Netscape, while other organisations 
operate on another level and try to regulate them and lead the way (like And what about plug-ins?

The other remark: this is true for a semiotics of machines. But how do 
you get to the user? Mind (user) and body (a computer reading protocols) 
are there, hungring for each other, but how do the make the final dance? 
By describing the things on their screen as space? 

>Protocol is a very special kind of object. It is a universal description
>language for objects, a language that regulates flow, directs netspace,
>codes relationships and connects life forms. Protocol does not produce or
>causally effect objects, but rather is a structuring structure based on a
>set of object dispositions. Protocol is the reason that the internet works,
>and performs work. In the same way that computer fonts regulate the
>representation of text, protocol may be defined as a set of instructions
>for the compilation and interaction of objects. Protocol is always a
>second-order process; it governs the architecture of the architecture of

In the neo marxist debate it could be an interesting statement: cause 
efect logic influences the field of the logic of meaning...


> It is a hegemonic formation, or rather, a dynamic
>process-space through which hegemonic formations emerge and dissolve. That
>is to say, digital networks are structured on a negotiated dominance of
>certain textual forms over other forms, all in accordance with schedules,
>and hierarchies, and processes. Protocol is the chivalry of the object.


The basis for a phenomenolegy of protocol? Especially the first sentence.


> The filtering agent suggests potential likes and dislikes
>for the user, based on matching that user's profile with other users'

...hmmm. A more political response on my side  would be that it destroys 
something. Well, you know, the discourse of protocol is altered in a .... 
monologue of protocol pretending to be a discourse....????? Something 
like that...

>+ + +
>Netspace is the imaginary manipulation of imaginary boundaries. Netspace is
>both the space of the narrative itself and its own putting-in-space.

How does one feel and what does one do when someone connects with a 
protocol interpreting device to a body of scripts that are described and 
somehow experienced as space? It is like passive teleportation: one is 
here, but also there. It is a travel that is never made. It is a 
contradiction made possible and experienced by technique (protocol).

Somehow the human mind tries to cope with the concept of being here and 
there at the same time, while at the same time nothing hapens. And in its 
cave-paintings the human mind tries to depict a door to a space that is 
not there. Look at: doom, myst, quake, etc. And the representation of the 
computerworld in films and novels as a real space. 


>The use of offline metaphors to organize netspace is often problematic.

I like the last part of the space chapter, when is dealt with the space 
metaphor and how people use it to describe the computernetwork they are 
part of (to project meaning into a network).  (read the original if you 
don't knwo what I'm talking about!!)

>+ + +
>What this extended examination of digital technologies aims to argue is
>that the digital is a set of protocols, based in technology, that governs
>object relations, themselves a complex constellation of relations within
>texts and the organization of objects in space. To facilitate these
>protocols, certain ways of thinking about digital technologies legitimate
>and privilege specific organizations of objects. Stone's move is to show
>how we think of the body in the online community. My move is to show the
>inner workings of HTML as they produce object/protocol relations.
>Moving forward from a theoretical legacy then, digital studies can begin to
>analyze the field of emerging digital technologies--the space of the
>internet, the internet browser, the digital "object" and the digital

I'm curious to find out where that is leading to. A new tradition? 
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