The Grid (a new sketch of The Digital)

story © Michael Betancourt, March 25, 2011 all rights reserved.


The paradigm of digitality is—especially at a technological level—a reification of the modernist grid. Fundamentally a process of segmentation of ordering, its contents are essentially identical, divorced from the physical variability inherent to other material constructs by the unrelenting opperations of binary code. Once it has been rendered into a human-readable form, the meaning of these codes stands apart from the digital work—an example of the aura of information acting within our encounter. It is the transcendent dimensions of early abstraction that finds itself mirrored by encoding of physicality in data samples, paradoxically both literal in its insistence on the measurement of the discrete physical features of the world, and immaterial in how this meaning is held apart from the electro-magnetic switching of microtransistors within blocks of matter (the aura of the digital in action).

For silicon, the material of both quartz crystals and glass, to become digital is to literally become opaque, the process of sight no longer being a matter of seeing-through, but of seeing-within: insight, transcendent vision—this transition is digital. The ideology it creates is one that takes scientist and science fiction author Arthur C. Clark’s observation about advanced technology and magic, and moves it from the imaginary future to the lived experience of the present. In the process this shift fills the space of the digital with imaginary, instrumental forms of “life,” (from computer viruses, to worms, spiders, bots and spyware), whose action-function is parasitic upon the hardware and software it “infects.” At the same time, the lifeworld become machinic: “lifehacking,” and DNA as a variety of digital code, a confusion of the model with its subject in an appearance of hyperreality in organic form as the digital technology that enables its manipulation.

It is in this convergence of machinic, semiotic, and biologic that we find the paradigm of the digital intersecting with the political economy and the problema posed by the human agency in relation to the devices deployed and autonomous within this digital realm: the metaphorically alive as well as the immaterially productive. The issue becomes not simply a matter of economic or class structure, but of machinic relations describing greater and lesser control produced, maintained and reified by how digital technology and the ideology of the digital reinforce each other in aspiring to the state of information.

Within this space the modernist grid lies as the enabling paradigm. Structuring and organizing elements that can and cannot be reconciled, enabling their control valorization. It is in this breaking into samples that the potential for quantization and value extraction-exchange becomes possible: it produces the potential for semiosis that is the foundation of the financialization process. Immaterial capitalism depends upon the immaterial production made possible through the grid’s fragmentation of continuity into disparate parts.

Those ways of being formerly not valorizable become the new domain of valorization: indexes of happiness, demographics tailored to unique individuals—the affective domains—whose action is to distract from the maladjustment of life to the demands of an ever more extensive, comprehensive grid of data whose goal is the complete accounting of the life world (the aspiration to the state of information).

Copyright © Michael Betancourt  March 25, 2011  all rights reserved.

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