In this paper, I argue that bits cannot escape the material constraints of the physical devices that manipulate, store, and exchange them. Such an analysis reveals a surprising picture of computing as a material process through and through.
Knoespel and Zhu (2008) suggest the popular characterization of cyberspace as “an ethereal escape from the filthy, hopeless ‘meat’ world” is inherited from a Cartesian dualism that posits a strict dichotomy between language (spirit) and the material world. Moving beyond such “romantic notions of immateriality,” they suggest computing systems are characterized by a “continuous materiality,”
Continuous materiality accounts for the materiality of computing on several levels: through the immanence of embodied experience in language, manifested by the dual registers through which code operates. Instructions to machines (open window, cut and paste) are also apprehended by humans via the metaphorical function of language. Even while programmers mostly operate within strictly positivists conceptions of language, computer code creates relationships among multiple symbolic systems, those necessary to move the cogs of the machine, and those necessary for those operations of the machine to be situated within language, and thus, social order. At the same time, multiple kinds of computer code co-exist within the computer, each potentially mediating among different codes pertinent to different social systems.
Knoespel, K. & Zhu,, J. (2008). Continuous materiality through a hierarchy of computational code. Théorie, Littérature, Epistémologie, 25, 235-247.
Codicalism dissolves the separation between languages (e.g., programming) and substrate. Substrate matters again.
New Materialism dissolves the separation between humans and nonhumans. Things matter again.
Following “Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things” (Jane Bennett), “Planning Matter: Acting with Things” (Robert A. Beauregard), maybe there should be “Virtuous Matter: The Ethics of Things”.