[-empyre-] First Theme and Guests - the Thickness of the Screen

Pall Thayer palli at pallit.lhi.is
Thu Sep 3 19:38:49 EST 2009

> We can be very nitpicky over definitions of medium and device. (I like for
> example how Bolter and Grusi sidestep this issue completely with recursive
> non-definitions in Remediation.) One might replace "medium" there with, say,
> "media ecology" or "media system"; what I call "media device" is sometimes
> referred to as "apparatus", etc. I am singling out technical objects -
> pertaining to a subclass of technical objects that is defined in the terms
> of the first post - from the larger systems they are embedded in; surely you
> wouldn't find this an impossibility?

A media ecology is exactly what I was describing; a conglomeration of media applied in 
cooperation. What I was pointing out is that when you pick it apart, you're picking out 
distinct media as opposed to isolating technical operations that combine to create a single 
medium. They combine to create a single mediated experience but they are still multiple 
distinct media.

> What kind of screen do we mean here? A computer screen is a very complex
> machine; the activation of a matrix of colored "pixels" on the screen being
> only part of its physical operation. This is what is made most evident to
> the viewer, whereas other parts of its operation are usually hidden, as
> pointed out before. A silver screen in a movie theater is likewise not so
> flat as you present it there - for an analogical example, see Rauschenberg's
> empty canvases and John Cage's explications thereof.

Obviously here I'm referring to a television or computer screen but that doesn't really matter. 
The function of this type of screen as medium (i.e. the means by which it mediates) is colored 
dots. The technology behind it affects our experience of it but it doesn't change the fact that 
what it delivers to us is colored dots. This is what we expect from it. Rauschenberg said that 
"a canvas is never empty." It always mediates its surface because that's what we expect it to 
do. I don't know what John Cage said about this but I think Rauschenberg's own point is 
pretty straightforward.

> "These don't necessarily involve unintentional
> errors."
> They don't. What I called error conditions need not be unintentional - my
> examples might have been misleading here -, and I find both of your examples
> actually pretty illustrative of what I am trying to describe. An error
> condition is defined by its friction with the normalized operation of the
> machine, and with the normalized process through which a pattern of
> operation is expected to be abstracted from the physical machine. The fact
> that you are looking at liquid crystals in line radiating colored light and
> see a "picture" - and by so doing, disregard all the physical operations
> carried out in a visual display unit, up to and including the matrix of
> liquid crystals of the screen, while also likely granting to that picture
> certain ontological autonomy in relation to the screen and the other devices
> implicated in its production - is what I am calling "abstracting a pattern
> of operation." I use "abstract" in the sense of making abstract and
> detaching, not of erasure i.e. abstracting *out*.

I think we actually agree on many points despite defining them differently. I understand your 
use of the term "abstracting" and I don't disagree with it per se. However, in the context of 
what you're discussing, I think it would be clearer to speak of abstracting distinct media 
rather than patterns of operation. With this wording we have to ask ourselves, "So, is this 
'operation' NOT a medium?" Is that perhaps how you see it?

Also, I'm not sure that we agree on what the "thickness of the screen" is. I get the feeling 
that you see the screen as having a thickness because it's so packed with technology 
whereas I see it as having a thickness because it's so prominent that it overshadows all of 
the other layers of media involved. So you end up saying that an awareness of the other 
media thickens the screen whereas I say that an awareness of the other media renders the 
screen more transparent, therefore reducing the thickness of the screen. Am I correct? 
Anyway, I hope you see why I think these seemingly minor distinctions are in fact important.


Pall Thayer

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