Class Notes and Reflections

Some important notes and reflections from Monday’s class (Life, Liberty, and Happiness after the Digital Explosion).

– Ken says, “Digital representations are, by definition, approximations. They leave out a lot.” “What you see isn’t what you get.”

– Reflecting on last week’s class on privacy problems, one classmate notes, “This course should be Death and Unhappiness after the Digital Explosion.”


Talking about metaphors, and why they are misleading. Prof. Lewis says that a lot of problems are caused by these “compelling metaphors” and that data leakage occurs because “people take [the] metaphor beyond what it applies.” We look at the Calipari Report and some other cases. Prof. Lewis also gives the example of the trash can, and how, unlike real trash cans, data put into the trash can is not truly deleted. (Although in some sense, putting garbage into a real trash can doesn’t make that trash disappear either. They just go into landfills, are recycled, or are sold to other poor countries.)

Extinguishing technologies

We talk about extinguishing technologies. (It’s funny how we can put an “ing” on extinguish) Prof. Lewis mentions how bits are just combinations of 0s and 1s and that if we don’t have the programming language, the data is useless. Examples can be MS Word, or jpegs. Information now is all digitalized, but will people of the future be able to read them? Text can be printed out, but what about audio/visual?

I find this aspect of extinguishing technologies especially interesting (and somewhat personal) because my father has been collecting Disney films (still does) to show my children (whenever that may be). It first started in Betamax, then he started buying VHS video tapes, then DVDs, and now Blu-ray discs. I point out that there is no need to buy those films now because by the time I have children, a whole new technology may be in place.

Mom and dad before I was born

Mom and dad before I was born

There is also the matter of family videos and pictures. At my parents’ house, there is a whole shelf with thick photo albums of my sister and I when we were little. Those photo albums stopped when I turned 10, replaced with boxes and boxes of negative films. Now, photos are stored on a hard drive, which my parents sometime look at through Apple TV. I sort of like the idea, however, of going through old, faded pictures- especially those of my parents when they were young.

In a similar sense, I wonder what is going to happen to video art installations once all TVs go digital. It may be okay now, but a 100 years from now, will future generations be able to look at a Nam June Paik installation and see the moving images as we do today? Should we keep an ample supply of vacuum parts or whatever that analog TVs need when they break down?


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