The Digital Workshop and Analogue Drill Presses

One of the memorable things about my Grandfather was his workshop. There were tools absolutely everywhere (perfectly organized – he just had a lot of them!). As someone who’s never really enjoyed using power tools, his workshop was a pure expression of bored terror for me – they didn’t hold any appeal, but i was always worried that I’d come out with one arm less than when I walked in. I don’t know if it was something someone told me (“Power tools can hurt/maim/kill you – don’t touch your Grandfather’s!”) or the commercial in the 80s where a robot had its various limbs cut off with the rejoinder at the end “I can replace my limbs. You can’t.”

Maybe it’s just a genetic deficiency of some sort.

The Mediation of Digital Content

Regardless of any genetic aberrations, I’ve always been drawn to reading/writing/producing literary content. I’ve developed incredibly crude websites (this one included) that are functional without being ‘cool’. My digital creations and content spaces have never paralleled the plaque that was created for my Nanny and her cat, Puss, for example. There is something that has (and seems to continue to) alway impressed me about physical creation; its very tangibility and physical being-in-the-world, where it becomes clearly ready-at-hand is impressive. That’s not to say that a digital creation can’t operate on the same metaphysical levels – I’d argue until I was blue in the face that there were clear ontological similarities – but it doesn’t strike as direct, perhaps because accessing digital creations seems somehow further removed/mediated by technologies. This mediation, in turn, prevents the subject from fully comprehending what they are creating if they are using ‘short-hand’ (i.e. programs that automate a significant element of the more challenging aspects of content generation, such as the code that this blog sits upon) and enslaves them to their technology.

Technology as a Defining Element of Metabolism

I’m certain that at least one of my colleagues would suggest that that last comment surrounding the enslavement to technology would demonstrate an ontological-illness/blockage that has to be overcome prior to realizing the full ethical and ontological significance of technology itself. To suggest that technology, as a facet of our metabolic processes, can enslave us is as absurd as claiming that my hand, foot, or eye can enslave me. While true that any of these limbs is capable of momentarily diverting my attention as it comes into contact with the world, that diversion should likely be considered a regulatory biological process. Technology, once understood as an element of our metabolic existence, thrusts us before our traditionally understood selves, both in material and metaphysical senses. This said, understanding technology as an element of ourselves, just as our epidermis is an element of what composes us, involves claiming that technology (and as a result ourselves) are drawn forward before ourselves, only to be recognized for what we are and have been. We create and cannot comprehend its implications until it operates in the world – our comprehension of metabolism is predicated on our recognition of what has become, and less upon what will become. Our metabolism structures our very Being-in-the-world, and we can only understand it after being thrown into it; it is impossible to perfectly comprehend how we will be pitched.

Metabolism’s Digitization

So what does this mean for my digital creations? To return to my Grandfather’s creations, in the process of creating a facet of himself was necessarily injected into the project and then released into the environment. Retaining core facets of his project, just as a fragment of hair holds a person’s DNA, his technological creations blended with others’ metabolic projects. In doing so, a commons was created, one where technology served to bind those who necessarily participate(d) in the narrative of the self-that-has-been-projected. In other words, a facet of my Grandfather was in the sign he created for my Nanny, and that her usage and integration of that metabolic process into her own inextricably bound the two through a common expression of metabolism.

In my case, a digital creation functions in a similar manner, though seemingly with a significant difference. In the creation of the flash banner at the top of this post, a series of technological artifacts we taken, molded, and reshaped – I absorbed material from my environment and, through a metabolic process, those materials were fundamentally transformed. This transformation, however, was and remains predicated on the technological constructs of others – much as a tree’s limb requires the soil, water, sun, and other common environmental stimuli, my construct is predicated on the social, technological, and biological environment(s) that I exist in. Moreover, the extension of social and technological from biological, while significant insofar as it provides an analytic differentiation of terms and metabolic zones, is just that: it functions dominantly as an analytic differentiation. With an understanding of technology as a metabolic, and thus biological, process, we cannot differentiate the social, environmental, technological, biological, etc in a fashion that we would understand according to common parlance.

Is Digital Ontologically Similar to Analogy Metabolic Processes?

I did note that there was a difference between my creation of a flash banner and of my Grandfather’s plaque, though I’m uncertain precisely how to understand it. My creation is digital – it is a perfect logical sequencing of 1s and 0s, a creation that is analytically perfect. My Grandfather’s creation, however, is an analogue process that is riddled with the intricacies and uncertainties of life itself. Of course one could return by claiming that my process is as biologically ‘imperfect’ as my Grandfather’s process by the very fact that I am here, as a biological being, working within a metabolic structure to generate this life-embued artifact. I would have to question how strongly that ontological similarity can be carried, however – I don’t want to commit myself to either an affirmation or rejection of the metabolic similarity at an ontological level, but I do have my doubts that the digital and analogue creation retain an identical ontological form.

Whereas normally I’d like to end with a clear ‘aha!’ moment, where I reveal a clear solution/logical avenue that is compelling, I’m still left without a clear stance. Are my digital tools as ubiquitous as my Grandfather’s drill presses and saws? Is there genuinely an ontological difference between the cold math of 1s and 0s and the impact of a hammer slamming upon a nail if we understand technology as a core facet of our metabolic structures?