Reading Codex, by Lev Grossman, I felt pulled into the story right away. Maybe I was susceptible simply because I have always liked books, and looking in the back part of the library that was hardly touched. I could smell the books Wozny interacted with as they were described. It was a story I had lived myself multiple times, in some ways.

Ironically, lately I have started going digital. I even got the Kindle version of Codex. But I definitely miss holding the physical book in my hands, turning the pages carefully, and that musty book smell everyone says they hate, except for me, and the occasional like-minded person. Grossman took these ideas to the point that it was easy to recall similar instances, and in that regard, it was not so bad as a digital book.

I felt like I was in the puzzle. Grossman put us in the middle of this story, with all of these things, and changing technology. It was literally at the beginning of the change. Computer games were relatively new, but they were a thing. And they were already detracting from the time people spend with their nose in books. It was a clear documentation of the turn of the century, fiction though it may be.

One of my favorite parts of this book, and very archive-centric is how the clues are hidden. To find the codex, they had to go through a serious archive, layered with security measures. They had to read through the wordplay, and commit sacrilege to find the holy grail. An enjoyable twist.

Snapchat is a popular mobile application that can be downloaded on many different platforms. The main purpose of snapchat is to share photos faster and for a short time. The users can set a time limit for how long the viewer can see the picture ranging from 1 to 10 seconds. Once the time expires the photograph would be deleted from recipient’s device. More and more I experiencing snapchat than their actual camera on the phone which almost has the same function.

The issue snapchat brings to the table is the inability to remain with you forever. Photographs show a memory of the past that can be kept for years. When something significant happens people tend to use snapchat more than their actual camera which makes no sense to me. If the event was significant, why not capture it forever? SnapChat de-materializes photographs.

Although this may be quite a stretch to link to the topics related to class, I came across this video and thought that it would be relatable to the idea of materiality in the sense that our society seems to have lost it today. The person in the video points out multiple times in which creators develop applications or software or social media to “bring” people together, but in the end, it seems to push people who are near you further away. While we all climb aboard to the train of the digital era, we all lose our sense of connection from what is around us. At one point in the video, the guy asks his friend to meet up face to face, and his friend asks what time he wants to video chat. Although the original intent of the transformation of technology was good, it has replaced much of the materiality we had before. I think this video does a good job of explaining how much of our world has been shaped by technology and brings to light how losing materiality has had a negative impact in the way we connect with people today.

Materialism is dying: Stuart Grover at TEDxManly

Above is an interesting video on the aspect of materialism and how it could possibly be dying in the digital age of 3D printing. Stuart Grover believes that ideas are the things that have value, and materialism is dying. In Bill Brown’s article “Materiality,” he states about dematerialization that new media and digital media may be threatening the material objects of our world. This video provides an interesting contrast, because Grover is creating material objects with a digital medium, yet believes materialism is dying. Although the video focuses on the “idea that replacement parts could be ‘printed’ on demand,” it brings up relevant points that can be related to archives and materialism.

In Chapter 17 of the link, Labys introduces the term transmaterialization.

“Transmaterialization implies a recurring industrial transformation in the way that economic societies use materials, a process that has occurred regularly or cyclically throughout history. Instead of a once-and-for-all decline in the intensity of use of certain materials, transmaterialization suggests that materials demand instead experiences phases in which old, lower-quality materials linked to mature industries undergo replacement by higher-quality or technologically more advanced materials.”

In chapert 18, Bruyn suggest that this can substitute as a better understanding than dematerialization. The digital fanzines that we are creating in class could be an example for this transmaterialization. We are taking an old, lower quality material and modernizing it with a technologically more advanced material. This is not always a good thing, sometimes it takes the value out of the zine itself. Think about it, looking at an old book online is not the same as looking an old book in person. The only sense you can use is sight.

Materialization should be categorized by the senses you can use to describe them. We have 5 senses, hearing, sight, smelling, feeling, and tasting. When reading an old book I should be able to say, for example:

  • this book smells like oil
  • the pages are very think, feels like cotton
  • when I turn the page, I hear a crumbling sound
  • the words appear to be handwritten in cursive
  • I licked the cover and it taste like cardboard

Even though the last one is more extreme, and hopefully most people do no choose to lick a book, the fact that they can adds materialization. If this book were online, the only thing you would be able to say about it is what it looks like. You could read about how someone else depicted the book, but their senses and descriptions could be totally different than yours.

With this, I do believe that there is a thing as transmaterialization, but it is not a substitute of dematerialization. Dematerialization happens within transmaterialization.

30. September 2014 · 1 comment · Categories: 1.4

Photographer: George Frey/Getty Images (Gettyimages.com)

Bitcoins are the leading cryptocurrency today, conceived in 2009 and currently holding an exchange rate of more than $300 per Bitcoin. The past couple years have seen a massive rise in both their value and the number of merchants who accept Bitcoins for purchases.

As discussed in the article, the foundation of the Bitcoin has paved the path for new services and even new cryptocurrencies. Mainstream consumers, however, still are slow in the acceptance of Bitcoins. Despite numerous high-profile investors, many people still are unaware of what Bitcoins are. On top of that, the value of Bitcoins is so volatile that people are rightly apprehensive about giving it a chance.

Bill Brown discusses in “Materiality” that the rapid digitization of our world has resulted in an exchange of materiality for a greater technological grasp of our lives. To see that humans are also making a a move towards digital currency proves Brown’s point in the continuing de-materialization of the modern world. However, the struggle for Bitcoin to become a widespread currency in the future still rests primarily in people’s attachments to the age-old infrastructure that rests in the materiality of traditional money.

Many aspects of Bitcoin, however, either attempt to preserve a sense of materiality from traditional currency or present a materiality unique to cryptocurrencies. For instance, wallets are objects associated with physical money. However, the term has been adapted for Bitcoins as a file holding all the private keys associated with someone’s Bitcoins; the term thereby inherits the familiarity of a material item. Something as subtle as the manipulation of the signifier to the signified can influence public acceptance because of our nature to gravitate towards things we recognize. The usage of physical computers to “mine**” for the coins also adds an aspect of materiality to the notion of digital currency. The capability for mining lies in the power of the computer, which is tied to physical objects such as the GPU. Even the coins pictured above, which simply hold keys associated with the digital Bitcoin, embody the materiality that the typical consumer associates with money. It is this reconciliation between materiality and immateriality that can help push Bitcoins toward the forefront of the modern market.

Link to the article: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/09/02/baverman-bitcoin/14728425/

**For clarification on the process of Bitcoin mining, here’s a bonus video:
What is Bitcoin Mining?

Many of you have probably spent time conversing with Cleverbot on the website www.cleverbot.com . It actually started as Jabberwacky in 1997 and branched into multiple AI algorithms, one of which is Cleverbot. The purpose of the algorithm being posted to the internet was to harness the power of the crowd in order to teach and shape the AI to pass the Turing test, a test to determine if an AI could pass as human. In Mao II we grappled with the interaction between the individual and the crowd. The mass wedding at the beginning of the novel shows the loss of the individual when creating a crowd. In contrast, Cleverbot shows how a crowd can bring forth an individual. This individual, created and molded by the crowd that interacted with it is an amalgamation of the many individuals’ language and personality. I found it interesting that in Mao II we saw that when individuals form crowds they tend to remove personality and uniqueness but with Cleverbot we find the creation of a personality and uniqueness from a crowd. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say that Cleverbot can serve as an archive of human language. By conversing with thousands of people a day Cleverbot is exposed to many facets of human language and while currently only responds in English it can theoretically learn other languages if given enough exposure to the foreign language.

29. September 2014 · 1 comment · Categories: 1.4

Items are moving digital. Games, TV shows, and movies have all begun a switch to the digital sphere. Archives have started to back-up their collections to digital. While some are against such a thing, I am for it. Digital back-ups create a greater security for the items involved. With digital copies, humans do not have to handle the originals, thus reducing risk of physical damage. With digital copies, you can share, print, and modify them all you want and no harm will come to the original. It is also easier to store and preserve a digital copy. What used to take up whole rooms can be stored on a single flash drive. Digital copies will also survive, even if the original were to be destroyed. Digital seems like it would be great for archives as it would made everything more readily available without having to risk the items. The originals can be locked away for safe keeping, while the copies can be used to the hearts content.

A major argument against going digital is the argument that you lose the original “feel” of the item. You do not feel the weight of the item or the feeling of paper in your hands. While this argument does not hold personally, I can see it being an issue for people. Items are moving to digital and will lose the old “feel” and gain a new one. Instead of sliding the tape into the player, you now feel the click of the mouse as to click the icon. The digital, however, is not completely replacing the physical. You can still buy physical books, tapes, and even records. For those who still long for the old “feel”, there will be a version to cater to you. It doesn’t have to be a battle of physical vs digital. It can be how one can compliment the other. DVDs come with codes for online copies. This allows for the portability of a digital copy, but you can still have the feel of a physical copy if you so desire. The same is done with CDs.

Archives are meant to preserve the past so future generations can learn of it. With digital archives, this can be improved. The content of the items in the archive are now available 24/7 to everyone. Every document can be brought up on the computer to be studied by any number of people at one time. Only if the person needs to experience the physical form do they then need to go to the archive to see the item. The use of digital formats can be used to improve the archives and overcome old obstacles physical means presented.

29. September 2014 · 2 comments · Categories: 1.4

Materiality originally was concerned with the physical make up of a particular object. During the start of the digital age, the line between materiality and immateriality began to blur. Even as early as the 1940s, Ernst Cassirer pointed out how physical reality began to decline in proportion to man’s symbolic activity advanced. Brown cites several different examples of when we can no longer distinguish the difference between materiality and immateriality. Before reading this article, I never really thought about the image of this notepad not being a material object. We all can note the difference between a concrete object and an abstract idea, but where does new media fall in those two categories? While there are many different arguments as to whether or not a movie being projected in a movie theater is material, I think that it is. These technologies that were once abstract ideas, do become material once implemented. The original definition was very simple. A thorn in a thumb has materiality and the pain in which you feel from that throne is immaterial. This movie that is being projected is both physical and not physical. And then we have all of these unboxing videos that are online of new iPhones, books, and other electronics. Where does the line of material and nonmaterial go? It is a material object being captured and then displayed to thousands of users. Even before this phenomenon took off, photographs existed. Capturing the physical representation of a person or object and translating it to another physical object. In form, this was dematerialized, but the object was enhanced. Instead of a memory that can easily be forgotten, a photo now exists that can help solidify that memory and be shared for years.

28. September 2014 · 2 comments · Categories: 1.4

In the article “Materiality”, Bill Brown argues that the very way that we gather the material essence of the world is being digitized. For example, we are relying more and more on technological mediums to provide us with the “feel” of what is going on around us. In this sense, the new medium in which we perceive the material world is, in fact, “dematerializing” the signified. Brown argues that this is particularly dangerous because it desensitizes us from the real (material) world. While, I do agree with Brown’s central thesis which is that the certain way that we allow different mediums to materialize our world is danger, I do not agree with the scope in which Brown presents his argument. Particularly, I do not agree with Brown’s assertion that new technologies (television, mass media, social networks, etc) presents a unique circumstance for this “dematerialization” phenomenon.

I argue that the same form of “dematerialization” mentioned in Brown’s work (as well as Baudrilliard’s works on simulations) have been in existence since, well, a very long time ago. As a tangible example, many philosophical analysis of the onslaught of western orientialism have hinted at a proxy-materialization of the orient since the beginning of the middle ages; further, the idea of security itself (which probably dates back older then that) mostly relies on a dematerialized “other” (known as an enemy). While Brown’s examples give examples revolving around modern technology, it seems that he is ignoring how the same signified is being signed by different array of signifiers. At best, Brown is simply bringing attention to a new array of signifier that accomplishes the same signified. Marx’s “dialect materialism” (something that Brown cites a lot throughout the article) is taken from Hegel’s “dialectic model” which hints at a form of progression that is formed from the relationship between a “thesis” and an “antithesis”. With that in mind, it is unclear where Brown makes the progression, as it seems, from his descriptions, the evolution of materialism has been a relatively linear path as the world finds better and more efficient ways to “dematerialize” itself.

Now how does all this relate to archives? Notice that archives are a center-piece of materialization of the past. It is through the archive’s means of preservation of the past that we gain a material view of what the past is like. Brown’s argument then is very much real when we think of digital archives and how we can scroll through the transgression of time on our laptops/tablets/etc. Notice also that the desensitization is also a very real affect, we are no longer awed by great historical feats as we are either bombarded with them or simply because they are so easy to access (on par with Brown’s argument). However, if we think about it a bit more, isn’t this how archives always worked? Sure we are given much faster and broader access to history; however, that seem to be equivalent to hearing the same legend over and over again… back in the old days.