Kirschenbaum’s Mechanisms

Matthew Kirschenbaum
Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination
Area: Digital Media

•    Hysteresis: persistence of a magnetic recording over time
•    “The problem with focusing on texts is that no one can read a text—not until it is incarnated in the material forma of a book” (Jonathan Rose)
xii: “On the one hand we have ‘Agrippa,’ an electronic text that must contend not only with its notoriously fragile digital pedigree, but which was actually intended to disappear from sight, yet is one of the most stable and accessible electronic objects I know.  On the other hand is the extreme physical trauma of the World Trade Center collapse, yet electronic data emerges intact from its ruins.”
xvii: “Information technology is among the most reliable content domains on Wikipedia, given the high interests of such topics among Wiki’s readership and the consequent scrutiny they tent to attract.  Moreover, the ability to examine page histories on Wiki allows a user to recover the editorial record of a particular entry, with every revision to the text date- and time-stamped and versioned.  Attention to these editorial histories can help users exercise sound judgment as to whether or not the information before them at any given moment is controversial, and I have availed myself of that functionality when deciding whether or not to rely on Wiki.  Wiki itself, whose developers leverage their software’s content modeling to expose document histories with a precision, transparency, and granularity unprecedented in printed publications outside the realm of genetic editions and textual scholarship, is a working example of the mechanisms I discuss herein.”
Intro: “Awareness of the Mechanism”
4: “Computers themselves were initially engines of prediction and prognostication, not recollection and storage; they only became so with the advent of the so-called von Neumann model and the somewhat later addition of random access disk memory, which enabled reliable real-time, nonsequential access to large reserves of information.”
5: “Crucially, storage today is both an accessory, something you hold in your hand or slip into your pocket (your iPod or memory stick), but is also increasingly disembodied and dematerialized as we approach tetrabyte-scale disks where users are no longer constrained in their information retention by the capacity of their hard drives.”
11: “Bits are—in other words—symbols to be set and reset, set and reset, on again and off again, over and over again.  Where as forensic materiality rests upon the potential for individualization inherent in matter, a digital environment is an abstract projection supported and sustained by its capacity to propagate the illusion (or call it a working made) of immaterial behavior: identification without ambiguity, transmission without loss, repetition without originality.”
Chapter 1: “Every Contact Leaves a Trace”: Storage, Inscription, and Computer Forensics
34: “I am belaboring these details to make the point that as a teenage computer user I had unself-consciously worked with storage media whose material qualities were very particular but which differ markedly from what would be the norm today.  Since even routine chores like disk defragmentation are performed far less frequently on the current generation of hard drives, storage has become ever more of an abstraction, defined only by a volume letter (“C”), a graphic hard drive icon, or a pie chart visualization of space remaining.  Greater and greater storage capacity will only serve to further dematerialize the media as their finite physical boundaries slip past the point of any practical concepts.”


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November 2008
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