*Just as a precurser to the essay below: The following essay is written accross the computer. The last word of the essay is on the front over the power button. In class we were given the task of writing a 900 word paper (I'm 80 words shy) on digital that could be as creative as we wanted as long as it related to our chosen theme. No specifics, just on digital. So, having the sense of humor that I do, I decided to literally write on digital technology. The paper itself is mainly about how we forget the digital world is as real as the one we sit in. On a subtler read-between-the-lines approach, the paper is about a lack of physical human contact and this need for control.
Digital space and real space, while in actuality occupying the same space, appear to be worlds apart. When people turn on a computer and surf the Internet it is as though they have entered a whole other world. The terminology we use is a prime example. Our computer screens have walls and wallpaper (as do other internet sites that are built around the idea of it being a community such as Facebook). Websites are referred to as our Internet homes with homepages, windows, site maps, and addresses. We can enter and leave different geographical places, cultures, sub-cultures, and genres all without ever leaving a chair.
Yet the digital world is more real than surreal. It doesn’t exist outside of ourselves in another realm; rather it occupies physical three-dimensional space. The overwhelming amount of things to see and read can cause us to forget that digital space is tangible. A computer is just as tangible as a book. The difference between the book and the computer is that by holding a single page the information on that page suddenly feels real. We feel like we can touch it even though we touch the paper and not the words. If we can read braille, or touch engraved surfaces, then we physically can touch the information. With a computer, though we touch keys on a pad, we do not feel that same level of intimacy with the information until it has been printed and we feel the ink on the paper between our hands. Touch speaks to us in a way sight alone does not.
In the gap between the all too real book, and the too easy to be fake Internet, there exists the television. Television bridges the gap between our world and an imagined one. We may not trust everything we see on TV, but we do not find it otherworldly either. Television and computers can both show us real events. Things that we know exist because we’ve seen them, read about them, visited them, or experienced them in some way. When fiction is shown to us on television it is grounded in reality. We know that sets were built, that the people are real, that what we are shown while fake exists. Computers cannot give us this sense of security. Fictional images are drawn on the screen or are composites of other images. Even though we may understand how they are made, they are not grounded in reality. These images seem to be existent only on a screen. It is as though the new images have been formed from digital bits floating in a space. Unless printed it exists only on the screen. We have no tangible form to tell us it is real. Even the printed form only makes itself real – not what is depicted. Cameras, be they video or still, communicate with us in one direction. They give us a sense of security because we know that what will be shown to us later on a television screen has a physical space. It has to be real and explainable or we could not have created it.
It is so easy in the face of such varied and available forms of technology to forget that computers are physical things. They are made up of parts and wires. They sit on a shelf with the screen on our desk. We have CDs of information that we can add to the computer. Yet the information transfer, though through wires and parts, remains mysterious. It is not so different from how TV is transmitted, nor is the information on the screen any more real or tangible than spoken words, flashing images, or ink too fine on a page to feel on our skin. However, the flowing digital electricity with its wide reach remains something mysterious. Perhaps the reason for this is that in creating something to mimic what we understand of a communal / global environment we have come to believe it as one. Perhaps it is because many of us still do not fully understand how computers or computer programs actually function. Or, perhaps the greatest reason of all is the fact that computers offer us what television and literature offer us with the added bonus of two-way communication. We do not just consume information; we share it. We can do more than just talk to anyone in the world - we can see them, hear them, share in a birthday through video or photographs. We could potentially broadcast a city or our lives in real time over the Internet and get feedback. It is this mistaken interaction that pulls us into this alluring other world where whatever we dream can manifest itself through two-way communication. All we have to do is interact with keys on a keyboard, a chair, a monitor, and a button that says power.