The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

July 8, 2006


re John von Neumann, The Computer and the Brain - analog computer - "each
number is represented by a suitable physical quantity" - in the digital
machine there are markers and combinations. Consider the former a calcu-
lation which is _intrinsic_ to the material world and the latter, one that
is _extrinsic._ Then the former also embodies temporality - there is a
necessity for movement-vectors of material objects; I would argue (here's
the rub) that the latter displaces or flattens temporality. The simplest
example - an analog watch, a digital clock - in the former, temporality is
constituted by indexicality ranging over a _field_ within which projects
forward and backward are simultaneously visible - and in the latter, only
imminence appears - 10:42 does not constitute a vector or transformation
but an abstracted and flattened quantity. Admittedly, the quantity _means_
only by virtue of difference, but the difference - and difference itself -
is negated. In the analog situation, the field is the matrix of difference
which is memory, moving, movement. In the digital, pure function to the
nth-degree of tolerance. In the latter, deployment and poetics of tempor-
ality within which functionality is a residue - the reason for example for
so many chimes and bells - divisions external to the dial-field, divisions
in concert with labor.

The same phenomenologies occur in considering GPS and atlas navigators.
The former presents the imminent situation of the user (i.e. "you are
here") in relation to a sketched immediate surrounding (just as the
digital clock presents "you are now" - the split between synchronic and
diachronic almost too neat); the latter presents the field within which
the user must locate hirself - a field extending to the edge of the page
and beyond. The same is also of course true for the GPS, but the imminent
positioning of the GPS is over-determined; the map is centered on the user
or hir goal, the map is a production of the user though the GPS for the
user, or a production of the GPS in accord or upon the command of the
user. Like the analog clock, the GPS screen disappears with shutdown; the
imaginary of the screen retreats within the real artifact.

To some extent we are considering only a _moment_ within the digital,
which can map anything anywhere; online maps for example are becoming
increasingly detailed, and NASA's WorldWind is as good a simulacrum of the
planet as one is likely to get. The difference between analog and digital
is increasingly abolished as raster, bandwidth, and databases increase. It
is within the digital-personal, watches and portable GPS, that the dis-
tinction is likely to remain; even personal video/music players are
approaching the analog millennium. The greater the convergence, the
greater the databases and technologies at work, the more labor-intensive
the information regime, the more porous and vulnerable. The distinction
becomes a memory, revealed only when something goes wrong, and the digital
body opens, not to plumbing, chemistry and substance, but to electronic
technologies. And here, too, the distinction converges as bodies take on
the characteristics of cyborg-avatars, and the possibility of organic
computers and displays increases. Thus the world is all image, all screen,
complexity intertwined beneath surfaces; thus the world is porous and
vulnerable itself, susceptible to hacking and axing, conceivable and
inconceivable onslaughts. Just as the nervous system is both digital and
analog, so is the perceptual apparatus (by which I mean from sensor to and
through sensed); one can imagine a horizon of continuous images, sleeps,
dreams, stasis, and eternal death. So let us think of _distinction_ itself
as a stage or moment in time: Lo, the Other will become One, and the One,
Other, and all, or none at all, will bear silent witness to Absence.

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