An Evolving Apparatus

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

Language, in all its forms, is a key technology in defining the human. What would we be without language? Would we exist in the sense we apprehend ourselves? Could we reflect upon our existence in a structured manner, differentiating ourselves, others and things? Could we know what our urges and feelings might mean? Would we have a recognisable culture and exist in what we can identify as a society? As McLuhan proposed, language has extended the human and facilitated our evolution. We are profoundly as much a product of language as it is a product of us.

The computer has changed language as profoundly as writing and printing before it. As a symbolic machine, a system of signs that reflexively operates upon and modifies itself, both carrying and making meaning, the computer represents a new linguistic modality. We have rapidly adopted the computer as personal companions, as extensions of ourselves. Many of us are soft-wired into the machine and the possibility of hard-wiring is being explored by artists and scientists. The computer, as a language system, has become part of us and we have become part of it.

A significant development in computing, that has allowed us to see its social potential explicitly represented, was the convergence of computing and telecommunications infrastructure to create the internet. With the development of the hypertext transfer protocol, with its combination of computation and communication, we have witnessed the rapid and protean emergence of the web, a medium that in a short period of time has subsumed, or is close to subsuming, virtually all media before it. The web is not just the dominant media of our age but is becoming a fabric of our society, both instrumentally and culturally.

Given the relation between human ontology and language, the network can also be considered as key to the formation of our personal identity. What are the implications of living in such a media saturated hyper-connected culture? In this context we will consider the work of artists who, in the first instance, allow us to see how the computer and the network can be conceived and, secondarily, offer us visions of what the implications of these technologies are for individual and collective identity and what we can now identify as the homo-technical apparatus.

(Source: Author's abstract)

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Simon Biggs