Imagine “Computational Haze”

In the past we have difficulty creating truthful representation of the world. Today, we have difficulty negotiating freedom with the world we visualized. In contemporary digital culture, everyone hides behind digital devices, gazing at others, while at the same time trying to escape from being subjected to digital representation ourselves. The result is the fluctuation of opinions, results, evaluations, in which we simply paraphrase each other, instead of saying anything that’s truly different. 

Today’s design of hyperlinked communication model is inherited from the cybernetics system invented during WWII in the 1960s by American mathematician and philosopher Norbert Wiener. This self-referential circuit became crucial for the control of information. Inaccurate human mistake is gradually eliminated through continuous data smoothing and feedback process. What Norbert Wiener achieved was for actions initiated by a human to be analyzed, evaluated, mediated and eventually instrumentalized by a machine. In other words, a human’s expression is deemed valid only to the extent that it effectively contribute to the predefined mechanical process of electronic signal processing, transmission, and storage standard. 

Today’s digital interactive medium is faced with an imperative – the negotiation between functionality and openness. Digital communication is facilitated by computers. Once designed, a computational device has a finite amount of total computational power that can only afford a finite number of signals be transmitted in a given amount of time, that are free from degradation of noise. Therefore, we are faced with a dilemma, precision at the expense of variety. When we build an electronic scale, we are concerned with the scale precisely calculating and outputting the amount of weight it is measured. However, when we build a music instrument, we desire a variety of outcomes, with some room for imprecision and unpredictability. We will describe an electronic scale as informative, but we will never say it is poetic, energetic, or creative. Machines that have a high level of control of information over its surrounding environment offers low level of choice and possibilities. Machines that offers variety and chance offers an ineffective rendering of the single immediate reality at hand. If the history of internet is seen as a process of balancing the informational and energetic outflow of the computational device, then this history has overwhelmingly favoured efficiency at the expense of openness – a necessary condition of the creative act. 

Machine can only highlight the quality of an object, so long as that quality can be represented and communicated via the predefined protocol. Digital interactivity is designed in a way that an object’s value can only be communicated via a pair-wise interaction. Interactivity implies there is a sender and receiver, and the sender can only make its existence felt upon by sending a series of electronic signals which can be perfectly received and comprehended by the receiver. When we operate a machine or program software, our communication with it is bounded by the same predefined communication protocol. 

The informatic machine, as what a computer is, as the basic unit of the Internet, is essentially animated by millions of trillions of software. When a computer computes, it is the software who computes, the hardware merely provides the ability to compute. Software are written in different kinds of programming languages and created by software engineered. The nature of software, are giant conditional machine. Every single action is being wrapped in a condition. The number of conditions, consider everything existing on the Internet, is astronomical, but still limited. Any quality of input information that cannot be matched with any of the predefined conditions, are labeled as error or noise. They are being either tossed away, replaced by a uniformed error message, or simple being spit back to the sender. 

But on the other hand, A perfect, complete, immediate transmission, leaves no trace of error and eliminates the need to revisit the process of transmission. Hence, in the efficient and error-less setting, the receiver only perceives the message and fixes on the body of the message itself, the sender and the context are being rendered irrelevant and greyed-out, the network serves as a medium but doesn’t mediate. Soon enough, the receiver (and the sender, always bind together), becomes more and more invisible, and inert, fading into the void. 

Individuality which is private, independent from its spatial temporal situation, and cannot be either represented or communicated digitally are rapidly deteriorating. Once this deterioration progress goes into an irreversible state, real difference that’s not imposed by spatial temporal, that’s not actuated or instrumentalized, will cease to exist. Communication will produce multiplicities of differences that are rooted in sameness. Under perfect difference, there will always be perfect exchange and thus no longer a need or motivation to communicate. 

Absence within a Presence

There is an urgent need to reimagine a radically different mode of communication through digital interactive media, so that interaction enabled through computational object have the capacity to be both absent and present. This dual-existence will create a condition for communication that non-reduce, and will force the self-referential way of communication to ascend into a higher level. What we need is a digital haze, that allows one’s digital presence to be felt upon, priximated but not exposed or approached.  In Analysis of Equipment, Heidegger says that we generally notice equipment to us only when they are broken, which is when they stop to serve its intended purpose. Being is the play of “absence within a presence”. What is absent is more real than what is present. In a video game setting, boredom enables conditions for an alternative becoming that engages with the absent, and attempt to non-reduce. For those who frequent the auction houses in World of Warcraft, there is an infamous weapon item called the 17 pound catfish, which can be used as an off-hand weapon, offering marginal damage. This item consistently sells an average price of 100 gold coins online. The absence of the quality to feed and attack invites out a real quality which is otherwise undermined by players of the game. 17-pound catfish is present in the gameplay, but withdraws into the background, with its fins, scales and flesh carrying a reality that cannot be fully exhausted through gameplay. 

The 17-pound catfish alludes to a kind of digital haze, filling the World of Warcraft. Brokenness itself is a fog, a space in transit, hazy vision, blurred vision, a sketch of a kind of arbitrary state of existence, a generative gray. The gray splits in two, and gives out black when shadow wins out or light disappears, but also gives out white when the luminous itself becomes opaque. The digital haze creates a temporal, virtual space that makes the object simultaneously output both signal and noise. Non-functionality remains essential for functionality. The computationally brokenness is a vital response to the imperative of clarity, transparency, which is an imprint of datafication on objects. To become computationally broken means that we don’t digitally represent anything, we are not taggable or identifiable. It means creating the necessary conditions to a digital boundary, beyond which the concept of self is always approaching but never concluding. Computationally broken means resisting with all your power to be identified and reduced into effects and feedback, to be categorized and archived. 

Computationally Brokenness enables the conditions for alternative experiences, experiences which will not be immediately flattened out by binary machine signals. Computationally broken is to afford to communicate by noncommunicating on a physical, material, and functional level, which creates the necessary opening for a poetic, non-reductive space of grandeur.