Matthew Hutson, English 111, Brown University (1998)

Along with digital media's subversion of authority comes the subversion of authorship. Unlike paint or ink, pixels do not dry on the screen. A picture composed of discrete blocks of color that can be taken apart and streamed through digital circuitry allows the viewer almost as much freedom of manipulation as the original artist. An essay existing in a word-processing program or on a web page or in an e-mail message can be copied verbatim to a new environment, i.e. a word processor on the reader's home computer. Without losing any of its original maleability, anyone can rearrange the text, insert their own words, or undetectibly censor selected passages. The user cannot determine the writing's particular history as it traveled from the primary writer to the end-user.

The digital age has a twofold result on the distribution of information. Firstly, art and other information can reach many more viewers quicker and truer to its original form than can analog information. One can simply copy and past into email, and immediately send bits of data around the globe without any loss of accuracy or quality. Digital information resists entropy. Secondly, this ease of reproducibility also invites manipulation. One can copy a news article, replace any word or name or fact at will, and email it to friends, implying that the undistinguishable secondary changes existed within the original copy of the article. For several humerous examples, I invite you to Fake with Dan. Photoshop's powerful tools for image transformation allow users to modify photographs, replace people's heads with other heads, airbrush, er, facial, blemishes, and in general create believable representations of realities that never existed. Jean Baudrillard explains in Simulacra and Simulation that representaition often approaches simulation and creates an empty shell containing only a world that outsiders interpolate and imagine as real.

This photograph was probably doctored.

  • Metaphors.

  • Analogue/Digital OV Cyberspace OV InfoTech